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Copyright © 2013 by JS Taylor.
All rights reserved.
35 Cambridge Road, Hove
First Edition January 2013
The characters in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.
ISBN: 10 1484854152
ISBN 13: 9781484854150
Printed in the United Kingdom
“Natalie!” I race out of the chalet, letting the door slam behind me.
Part of me is frightened at what she may have just seen. Another part is furious. Natalie has made things difficult since she arrived. What business did she have, spying through my chalet window?
The idea of what she may have deduced is racing through my mind.
Natalie is walking away, towards her own chalet. Her back is to me, and she doesn’t change her pace, as though she hasn’t heard me.
My mental images whirl over how James and I might have appeared. Director and actress. Alone together in my chalet.
“Natalie!” I shout after her more forcefully, breaking into a faster stride. This time she noticeably picks up the pace. She’s heard me then. But she’s pretending she hasn’t.
I call her again, and when she doesn’t answer, I sprint the last few paces towards her and grab her tiny wrist.
I use more force than I mean to, and Natalie whirls around in alarm. Her eyes glance anxiously to where my hand is holding her arm.
“Why didn’t you stop?” I ask, letting her wrist drop from my hand.
She looks a little frightened, but doesn’t reply.
“What were you doing?” I demand, “looking through my window?”
I don’t bother to disguise the anger in my voice, and Natalie’s eyes blink in confusion.
“There’s no need to get so mad,” she manages finally. “I just wanted to know what got loaded into your chalet.”
I stare at her.
“There was a big truck,” she says. “Outside your chalet. Earlier today. I wanted to see what you had delivered.”
A big truck? I let the words compute. James had filled my chalet with flowers. Likely they needed a large vehicle to drop them off.
“What business is it of yours?” I say, still angry.
Steady, Isabella. Keep your temper in check.
After the last few days, I’ve reached the end of my patience with Natalie. But I realise I’m treading a dangerous path. If she’s figured out James and I are involved, I need to stay friendly. It’s my only chance of stopping her running to the press.
“I mean,” I add, aiming for a kinder tone, “you’ve got plenty of nice things in your own chalet. Why the interest in mine?”
Amazingly, this seems to strike a chord with Natalie. She lets out a sigh.
“I didn’t realise you and I were so similar,” she says, her cute beach-bunny lilt coming to the fore. “I like to decorate my own place too. We should be able to have expensive things delivered. James shouldn’t be trying to stop us.”
Natalie pouts and tosses her hair. Her mouth twists.
“I know you’re mad because you’re embarrassed,” she adds.
My stomach tightens. I eye her warily.
What exactly does she think was going on?
“But it’s cool, really,” she says. “James told me off too, for having big deliveries. He can be a real pig sometimes.” She rolls her eyes.
A little of my uneasiness fades away.
“We should stick together,” adds Natalie, “so he can’t bully us.”
To my surprise, she reaches out her little hand and pats my arm.
“I’m glad it’s not just me he picks on,” she says, conspiratorially. “I thought those flowers you ordered were nice. Who cares some people might think they’re too extravagant? If you like flowers, you should be allowed. Same as I should be allowed to have my nice furniture from LA.”
I try not to let my mouth fall open in amazement. But I’m piecing together what Natalie thinks she’s seen.
It seems as though she thinks James was balling me out for having my chalet filled with flowers.
On reflection, this shouldn’t be so bizarre. After all, Natalie Ennis is so completely self-absorbed. It makes sense she can only understand my experiences in relation to her own.
I vaguely remember the influx of huge furniture delivered to Natalie’s chalet. James must have told her she was being too extravagant.
“Yeah,” I manage, keeping my tone steady. “Well, I’m not used to this actress thing. But I thought it would be cool to order in flowers.” I aim for a light laugh. “Shame James didn’t agree,” I add.
Natalie nods vigorously. “People don’t realise how important the environment is to an actress,” she says. “We’re sensitive. It’s important we get what we want, so we can create.”
She waves her hands expansively at this last part.
“Think of all the joy we bring to people,” she says. “Well,” she moderates, remembering it’s me she’s talking to. “You have that to come, with the fans and everything. But really. People love actresses. We should be rewarded for that.”
“Um. Yeah,” I agree, not really sure what I’m saying. The relief flooding through me is intense.
She doesn’t think she saw anything incriminating.
Then I remember what a good actress Natalie is.
What if she’s not telling the truth? I weigh this up, wondering how I can test it.
“I don’t think the director should come to our chalets,” I say, keeping a careful track of her expression. “The crew might get the wrong idea.”
Natalie’s eyes keep their perfectly vacant expression.
“They might think,” I press, “that there’s something romantic going on.”
Her face frowns in understanding.
“Oh no,” she says breezily. “You don’t need to worry about that. James never gets involved with actresses. Ever. It’s one of his rules. All the crew know it.”
She lowers her voice to a whisper.
“I think maybe he’s gay.”
James Berkeley. Gay. It’s as much as I can do not to laugh out loud.
“Really?” I don’t keep the surprise out of my voice. I can hardly imagine anyone less camp than the dark and brooding Mr Berkeley.
“Yeah,” says Natalie, nodding her head with certainty. “We were at a party one time, and I made a move, you know.”
She draws a finger across her throat. “Nothing,” she says. “No interest. And, you know,” her fingers sweep her tiny figure, “that does not happen with me and men. Ever.”
I can well believe this. Natalie is undeniably gorgeous. I have to admit, I am thrilled that James resisted her advances.
“And everyone knows that Madison and he aren’t really a couple,” she adds.
“Really?” I do my best to load my voice with scandalised surprise.
“Yeah.” She leans forward, delighted to be spilling the secret. “Stage marriage. For Madison’s career.”
“Oh.” I feign shock, trying not to let the relief show. Natalie’s inability to think of anyone but herself has finally become an advantage.
I remember Callum saying that Natalie wouldn’t guess about James and I for that reason. I didn’t realise just how right he was.
“Well, I’d best be going,” I say, affecting nonchalance. “Mr Berkeley is still in my chalet. I’d better hear what he has to say about the flowers.”
“Say they help your creativity,” Natalie urges. “Studios can’t argue with that. They need to get the best performance out of you.”
“Thanks for the advice.”
“Don’t mention it,” says Natalie, looking happier than I’ve seen her before. “Hey,” she adds, “you’re alright Isabella. Maybe we could hang out sometime. Figure out a way to stop James telling us what to do.”
It takes all my power as an actress to keep a straight face. But I keep my expression serious.
A way to stop James telling me what to do. I’m not sure he’d like that.
“It would be great to hang-out,” I say. “Thanks.”
And I turn on my heel, feeling a little sorry for Natalie. She might be a royal pain in the butt. But perhaps she’s just lonely.
“See ya,” calls Natalie, making for her own chalet.
“Yeah, see you,” I reply, breathing a huge mental sigh of relief.
I open the chalet door to see James standing there, like a man condemned.
“It’s ok,” I smile, “don’t worry. Natalie thinks you were telling me off for having flowers delivered.”
I smile again, but he doesn’t return the expression.
“James?” I walk towards him, confused. “What’s the matter?”
He’s holding his phone in his hand, and he waves it vaguely towards me.
“There’s been a leak,” he says. I’ve never heard his voice so serious. “Someone has been talking to the press. About us.”
I feel my stomach knot. Someone has been talking to the press?
My first thought is of Callum’s fear when the paparazzi first arrived outside the studio. Press could mean the movie gets canned. And maybe worse.
“Who?” I ask. “Who has been talking?”
James’s face tightens further.
“I don’t know,” he says, “but it’s someone who knows a lot. It could only be one of the actors or one of the crew.”
One of the actors or the crew.
Immediately, I think of Natalie. James has already told me she has an addiction to publicity. Although, having just spoken to her, I genuinely don’t think she suspects there’s anything between James and I. It’s confusing.
“What information was leaked?” I say finally. Images of us dancing tango are playing through my mind. James went crazy when those pictures aired. I couldn’t stand for anything more incriminating to hit the press.
James runs his hand through his brown hair.
“That’s what I’m in the process of finding out,” he admits. “It only happened in the last few minutes. I have a hotline,” he adds with a half-smile, holding up his phone.
Not Natalie then.
There’s no way she could have got a story to press in the few moments between leaving my chalet window and when I caught up with her.
“As far as I can work out, it’s just a rumour,” adds James. “No pictures. No proof. But someone has leaked that there could be something between us.”
He waves his phone, maintaining his half-smile. “My press officers have good contacts in the newsrooms. They let me know the second a story is considered for publication. This leak only happened within the last few minutes.”
“It was a phone leak?” I ask.
The mystery of it swirls in my brain.
The only other people who know about James and I are Will, Callum and Camilla. And I know for a fact that none of them would have leaked it.
Lorna is the only other person who has an idea that we’re a couple. I’ve not been able to get hold of her on the phone recently. But I know she would never betray me to the newspapers.
Who else knew?
“Could it have been one of the security who was hired to find the Lipstick Stalker?” I say finally, thinking out loud. From what I know of James, he’d only hire trustworthy crew. But the last-minute security might have tested his screening process.
James winces at the name, and then frowns.
“Perhaps,” he says, after a moment of consideration. “I did my best to keep a lid on the drama. But we had to get in a lot of security fast.”
Then he shakes his head. “We’ve been very discrete, Issy,” he says. “I really can’t imagine how anyone on the crew would have come to that conclusion. Even if they were motivated to leak stories.”
I’m not so sure.
His phone beeps, and he presses it urgently to his ear.
I feel myself holding my breath as he listens, then speaks.
“Thanks. Ok. We’ll manage it on our end. Do what you can.”
He clicks the phone off and turns to me.
“Looks like I’m going to have to make some important announcements,” he says, his eyes searching my face. “I think it’s time I made the divorce from Madison public.”
“What?” I can’t keep the horror out of my voice. We spoke about this before. And I told him I wasn’t ready. But part of me knows I will never be ready.
James face sets more seriously. “I just spoke to my press officer, Issy. Nothing has been confirmed. But the press are on the scent. They’ve been told there could be something more to our relationship.”
“How much do they know?” I hedge.
A public divorce. On my account. No, no, no!
I suddenly feel very sick.
James sighs. “It’s probably not too bad, Issy. I think we can manage it. But a rumour’s been started. And once those kick off, they’re difficult to stop. I need to get my divorce from Madison made public. If I wait, and we’re seen together, it could harm you.”
I’m shaking my head, and James steps forward and takes my shoulders.
“I’m sorry, Issy,” he says, “I know this might be too fast for you. Believe me. There’s no other way. I won’t risk that you’re misrepresented in this.”
I close my eyes, trying to stem my racing thoughts.
I can’t stand that I’d be involved, in any way, with a marriage ending.
“What about Madison?” I whisper, hating that anyone might be disadvantaged because of me. I only met Madison once. But I liked her a lot.
“She’ll be fine,” says James. “The marriage was only ever designed to give her a short term publicity boost. We just didn’t get around to ending it because neither of us needed to.”
He’s looking urgently into my eyes. “The marriage has done all it could for her, Issy. She’s back to blockbuster movies now. Besides, it’s about time she made herself available for some romance of her own.”
He smiles at me. But when I can’t return the expression, he holds my shoulders tighter. I realise that I’m shaking.
“Issy,” he whispers, “I love you. You have to remember. My marriage to Madison isn’t real. There was no ceremony.”
“I…” I search for the words. “I know that,” I say. “In my head at least. But…” I am staring into his green eyes. “It’s still marriage,” I say simply. I can’t think of how else I can explain it.
James’s eyes are filled with pain.
“It’s not just that,” I add. “There’s how you’ll be portrayed if you announce it…” I let the words trail off. I remember him telling me before that a fast divorce meant painting him as the heartbreaker.
“You don’t need to concern yourself about that,” says James tightly.
“Will they make you out to be the bad guy?” I whisper.
“That’s how it works, Issy. You don’t have to worry. My career doesn’t rest on my public image.”
I know I’m overreacting, but I feel tears start to well.
“But it’s so unfair,” I stammer. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”
James looks weary suddenly.
“That’s not entirely true, Issy,” he says. “It was wrong of Madison and I to pretend we were married. But at the time…”
He runs his hand through his brown hair again, in that gesture I love.
“Things were so different,” he says. “I never thought I would ever be able to make that promise. I thought the part of me that could commit to a woman was gone. If it ever even existed.” He’s staring at me intently now. “So it wasn’t important to me. It didn’t mean so much, as it does since I met you.”
I feel myself falling into his green eyes.
This is intense. Is he telling me I’ve changed his view of marriage?
“In any case,” he adds, the former expression dropping from his face. “I need to announce the divorce. And I need to know you’re ok with that, Issy.”
His eyes are back on mine now, pleading with me to understand. I blink back at him, and let out the breath I’ve been holding.
Do it, Issy, part of me says. This man deserves your understanding.
“Ok,” I say slowly. “Do whatever you think best.”
This, at least, puts the matter in his hands.
He gives a curt nod. And then something else occurs to me.
“I’m guessing we’ll have to stay away from one another,” I say in a quiet little voice. “To avoid suspicion.”
James gives me a distracted glance.
“In the UK, we can’t be seen together,” he says, nodding. “Not unless you’re acting and I’m directing. At least until the divorce storm settles. I don’t know how much the newspapers know, but there’s a chance they might send photographers to try and get into the studio.”
My heart sinks. I can’t stand the idea of seeing him on set and not being able to spend time with him alone.
“That’s why we’re leaving the UK for a time,” James concludes.
“Leaving the UK?” My voice is clear confusion. Is he suggesting we run away together?
“I’ve made preliminary arrangements,” James is saying as my mind races around what he means. “We’ll fly a skeleton crew out tomorrow.”
“Wait. James. What exactly are you suggesting?” The words come out more primly than I mean them to, and James gives a half-smile at my tone.
“We’re due to film a few scenes on location,” he says, “for part of the movie. There’s a part where Grace travels to Europe to report on a story. Remember that?”
“Um. Yeah.” I let the script run through my brain. My character, Grace, is reporting in Spain at one point. But I hadn’t considered it would involve actually shooting on location. I thought they’d just mock it up with sets.
“So,” says James patiently, “I’ll rejig things. Bring those scenes forward.”
“We’ll be starting the location shots in Barcelona tomorrow,” he explains. “That will give us a chance to lose the paps.”
Barcelona! I love the idea of returning to Spain with James. My mind swims with possibilities. Then practicality sets in.
“Won’t they follow us out there?” I say uncertainly. I’ve seen plenty of pictures in magazines taken of celebrities on beaches. Paparazzi seem to go wherever it takes to get their shots.
“That’s why I’m announcing the divorce,” says James. “Playing the paparazzi involves strategizing. Like chess,” he adds with an unreadable expression. “You set up scenarios to force your enemy to make false moves.”
I could be wrong. But it seems as though he might enjoy this. The game of playing the paparazzi.
“So… you think the divorce will send the paps elsewhere?” I guess.
James gives a curt nod.
“I hope so. That’s the way I’ve devised it. Madison will stay here in London,” he explains. “So the papers have a good story on their doorsteps. Heartbroken mega star. Madison will ramp up the sob story,” he adds, catching my expression at the last part. ”She knows how to play it. She’ll walk around London wearing dark glasses, looking sad. Then in a few days, she’ll be seen in a restaurant with one of her dancers. The media will explode. She’ll ride the publicity wave, right into her next big movie deal.”
I’m staring at him nervously. It seems complicated, this strategy of feeding the press scenarios. But James seems to take it in his stride.
“You’re good at this,” I say slowly. “Playing the press.”
“I’m a director, Issy,” he says. “My job is setting up scenes to tell a story. This is just another scene. Another story. The only difference is my audience are photographers.”
“But won’t they guess?” I ask. “Won’t the newspapers work out that it’s all fake?”
“Tabloids don’t care enough to delve too deeply into the facts of a great story,” says James. “All they want is to sell copies. If I’ve played it right, then they’ll do the math. They’ll figure it’s a better deal to go after a certain story on their doorstep than pay last minute airfare and risk getting nothing.”
“That sounds… clever,” I concede. “Will it work?”
James thinks for a moment. “I’ve a lot of experience with the press,” he says. “I’d like to think I can strategize one step ahead. But you never can say for sure.”
I consider this. It’s like cat and mouse.
“You think, most likely, they’ll leave us alone?” I ask.
“Yes.” James steps forward and cups my face in his hands. “I do. For one particular reason.”
He kisses my nose.
“You,” he says. “I can’t bear to think what I would have to do to a reporter who wrote anything bad about you.”
I think he’s joking. But only just. I give him a weak smile.
“Is it really necessary?” I ask, thinking of the filming schedule and budget. “Shouldn’t we just stick to the schedule and stay apart for a few weeks?”
Even as I say the words, I feel myself flinch at the idea. Being without him would be horrific.
James gently kisses my mouth. “Is that what you want?”
“No,” I murmur, feeling myself melt into the kiss.
“Good,” says James, kissing me again. Me moves his mouth to the base of my neck and begins planting light kisses along my throat. I feel my head tip back against the sensation of his lips. It’s as though he’s wired the sensitive skin of my neck straight to my groin.
How does he do this to me?
Then his lips are brushing gently against my ear.
“The truth is,” he whispers, “it’s not necessary for me to take the filming out to Spain tomorrow.”
His proximity makes it impossible to think rationally about what he’s saying.
“But I simply couldn’t bear,” he whispers, “to watch you through the camera each day and not fuck you at the end of it all.”
I feel my knees weaken, and I sink towards him.
“But just for now,” he says, moving away from me a little, “we do need to stay apart. Just for one night.”
He takes a step back, so he’s holding me by my shoulders again. I feel as though I’ve been severed.
“But tomorrow night, when we’re far away from prying eyes,” he says, his voice dipping low, “I’m going to make up for lost time.”
There’s a flash in his eyes which sparks instant desire in me.
“Until then,” he says, “I’ll be away from you. But I’ll be sending you instructions on how to behave.”
Oh. A wave of thrilled anticipation sweeps through me.
James Berkeley. You know how to bring out my dark side.
He leans forward, pulling me close.
“Keep your phone on you at all times,” he whispers. “The more obedient you are tonight, the more merciful I’ll be inclined to be with you tomorrow.”
The more merciful? What does he have in mind?
“Although,” he says, the low tone coming back into his voice, “you should expect to be disciplined, Isabella. I think it’s about time I took charge of you fully.”
Warm feelings flood my body. And once again I feel myself mired in confusion. Is this really what I want?
“I haven’t agreed to be disciplined by you,” I reply, raising my eyebrow at his assumption.
James reaches a hand up under my skirt and gives my behind a slap. I gasp at the sudden contact.
“We’ll see,” he says. “Just keep your phone nearby. And do what you’re told.”
I’m alone in my chalet for less than an hour when there’s a knock at the door. I open it in disappointment to see it’s not James on the other side.
Don’t be stupid, Issy, I admonish myself. He said already you couldn’t be seen together.
Instead of James, it’s a delivery boy in a FedEx T-shirt.
“Yes?” I say, making the word a question. I didn’t even know we could get deliveries inside the studio. Not with security so tight.
“I have a parcel for you.” He hands the form for me to sign, and I scrawl my signature.
I’m scanning for my purse, so I can hand over a tip, but the delivery boy holds up his hand.
“That’s ok, ma’am, it’s all been taken care of. Seriously,” he adds, seeing my confused expression.
If I was in any doubt, I now know for sure who the parcel is from. Only James Berkeley would arrange a delivery with a pre-paid tip.
I take the small package with a little thrill of anticipation, shutting the door. And then, on cue, my phone rings.
James Berkeley flashes up on the display as I pick it up from the coffee table.
“You haven’t given me time to open the package,” I laugh as I answer the phone.
“That’s the idea.” The sound of his low voice over the phone gives me another little thrill of anticipation. I can tell by the tone that he’s not called to make small talk.
“Look at your phone,” he says. “I’ve sent you an app. You need to let it download.”
I pull the phone away from my ear and see that a message has arrived. It contains no words. Only a link.
I click it, and a download screen loads up. It’s for a phone app titled ‘X’, which gives nothing away.
I press the phone back to my ear.
“What does the X stand for?” I ask.
“Go up to the bedroom.”
“So bossy, Mr Berkeley,” I tease. “You can hardly come by and spank me if I don’t obey.”
I’m pushing my luck, I know, but I feel a little thrill of power that he can’t get to me. Even if he wanted to.
“We’ll see about that,” growls James. “Don’t test me, Isabella. Or I may risk seeing you in the newspapers, just to come over to your chalet and spank you. Hard.”
Oh. I feel a little burst of desire. Is he serious? It’s impossible to tell.
I begin walking up the stairs.
“Are you doing as you’re told?”
“I’m going upstairs,” I admit, “if that’s what you mean.”
“Be very careful, Ms Green,” he says. “You have no idea what I have planned for you tomorrow. Any disobedience now will go hard with you later.”
“Well lucky for me, then,” I reply, “I have chosen to favour you with obedience. For now, at least.”
By now I’ve reached the bedroom door, and I cross the threshold.
“Are you in the bedroom?”
Since the Lipstick Stalker got into my bedroom, James thoughtfully moved me to another chalet. It’s almost identical to the first. And the bedroom is a cosy mix of bare boards, rugs, and decadent bed furnishings.
“Get on the bed,” says James.
“Now,” he adds, as though reading my mind.
Uncertainly, I seat myself on the bed, propped upright against the various fur and suede cushions.
“Look at your phone,” he says. “Has the app downloaded?”
I check the screen. There is a new app – a red square, labelled as X.
“What is it?” I ask.
“You’ll find out. Click it open.”
I press to open the app, but to my disappointment, nothing happens.
“Nothing happened,” I report. “I don’t think it’s working.”
“Oh, it’s working,” comes a dark chuckle from the other end. “I just haven’t decided to use it yet.”
Oh. What does it do? I’m dying to know. But well aware he’s not going to tell me.
“You may open the package,” adds James, after a moment.
Staring at the small parcel in my hands, I pull away the brown paper. Inside is a box finished in a beautiful matt black. It looks about the right size to hold a necklace. But I’m guessing it’s not jewellery inside.
Slowly, I prise off the lid.
The contents are unexpected. Fitted into the satin interior is a U-shaped loop of deep purple. It looks like it could be a piece of high-tech equipment.
“What is it?” The words are out before I can help myself.
“Take it out,” says James, his voice rolling smoothly.
Carefully, I prise the item from its neat housing. I can feel now that it’s made of soft silicone. And on closer inspection, there’s something far too luxurious about it to be for technological purposes.
“Can you guess what it is?” asks James. I can hear the amusement in his voice.
Carefully, I turn the U-shape in my hand. It’s heavy, expensively so, but not large. And the U-shape is slim. Each side bulges slightly at the end, as though either side were the stem of a flower with a bloom on top.
“No,” I say, after a moment. “I have absolutely no idea.”
“Oh come now, Isabella,” says James. “You must have some idea what I would send you a gift for.”
Of course I do. I feel a little twist in my groin. I may not know the exact purpose of this item. But I have a good idea of its general application.
“It’s a sex toy,” I guess.
“Very good,” says James. “Although toy might be under-valuing it a little. I plan on making some very serious use of this particular item.”
I’m analysing the shape more intently now, turning the device in my hand.
“I plan on using it for a very specific purpose,” explains James. “I plan on giving you an orgasm using G-spot stimulation.”
Wow. I feel my cheeks flush, even though there’s no one to see me.
The toy in my hand suddenly feels even heavier. And I can’t help but wonder how he plans on using this device without being here in person.
“As I remember it,” he says slowly, “you were wearing a very pretty dress, over some quite beautiful underwear, when I last saw you. Are you still wearing it now?”
“Good. I want you to take it off.”
I bite my lip and use one hand to unzip my dress. Then I wriggle out of it, letting it fall to the bedroom floor.
“Have you taken the dress off?”
I hear him sigh over the phone.
“I am devastated that I can’t see your beautiful body in reality. So you will have to give me a glimpse through your phone.”
“Is that what the app is for?” I ask, turning my phone to face me.
“No,” says James, his voice echoing up at me. “You can use the video call function on your phone.”
“Is that possible?” I ask, hedging. I’ve never used the video function, and I’m not sure it’s the most flattering of displays.
“Isabella, you know very well that it’s possible. And any further disobedience will result in a very firm punishment tomorrow.”
I feel a little pulse of desire race through me. What does he have planned?
“Press the button to video call,” he instructs. “And hold the phone towards your breasts.”
“Now,” he adds, sensing my capitulation.
Taking a deep breath, I press the button. And immediately, I see James’s handsome face flash onto the screen. How can anyone look that good through a camera phone?
“Turn the phone around,” he orders, and this time, I obey immediately.
“Hmmmm.” I hear him murmur through the handset. “Very nice. Now move the camera down.”
I let the lens run down over my belly, and settle on my panties.
“Take them off,” he says, his voice hoarse.
I move a hand down and run a thumb along the top of my panties.
I hear his breathing hitch on the other end of the phone.
“Isabella,” he warns, “you’d better not be teasing me.”
“Of course not, James,” I say innocently.
I can feel how wet I am already, and I let my fingers slide under the fabric of my underwear, letting him see how far down they reach.
I’m loving the power I have over him at this moment.
“Take off your panties.” It’s a command now, and even over the phone line, I feel myself automatically responding to the authority in his voice.
I tug down my panties, keeping my legs together, and let them fall onto the bed.
“Now,” he says, in the same low voice. “Open your legs.”
I close my eyes for a moment, steeling myself. The idea of him seeing me naked on camera suddenly feels more exposing than if he were in the room.
“Do as you’re told, Isabella,” commands James.
Slowly, I let my knees fall apart.
“Isabella.” James’s voice sounds tight. “Do you have any idea how beautiful you are?”
I feel myself blushing.
“I am disappointed that I can’t be in the room with you,” adds James.
So am I.
“But I have other ways of exerting my influence.” He sounds devilish now. His aristocratic English accent has an added naughtiness.
“I have a mind to make you touch yourself,” he adds. “But I couldn’t bear not to see it in person. So that will have to wait.”
Whoa. He wants to see me touch myself. I’m not sure I’d be able to do it in front of him.
“In the meantime,” he continues, “pick up the toy.”
I feel my breath constrict. The idea of using the toy myself feels a little frightening. What does it do exactly? It’s not large, at least. Each part of the U-shape is slightly shorter than a finger.
“You’ll notice each half has a slight bulge at the end,” James is saying. “One is a little ridged.”
I nod, and then realise he can’t see me. “Yes,” I say.
“That end,” says James, “is going to fit over your clitoris.”
Uh huh. I’m working out where the other end will go.
“The other part,” says James, his voice smooth, “will slide inside you.”
Slide inside me. I’m already wet just from hearing him speak over the phone. I guess he must know that.
“Move the toy in front of the camera,” he breathes. “I want to see you do it.”
There’s no question what he expects then.
“Now, Isabella,” he adds. “Don’t make me warn you about your punishment again. You have already pushed me to the brink of understanding. Any further hesitation will be counted as extreme disobedience.”
I swallow, and manoeuvre the toy in front of the camera and between my legs.
“Push it inside yourself,” says James, his voice sounding thick, “and position the other end so it fits across your clitoris.”
I do as he instructs, feeling the warm wetness grow as I slide the toy into myself. Part of me can’t believe I’m doing this. Another part feels incredibly sexy. Inserted into me, I can feel the soft pressure of the toy.
“The toy needs to be directly over your G-spot,” says James. “And since I can’t be there to position it, you’ll need to make sure it’s in the right place.”
How do I do that?
“Place your index finger at the bottom of the toy,” says James. “I want you to push slowly upwards. Until you feel it hit your G-spot.”
“How will I know if it’s in the right place?” I ask.
James gives a wicked chuckle.
Moving my index finger where he suggests, I slowly push.
Then I gasp, and my hand falls away.
“You found it then,” says James.
The sudden flash of sensation has left me momentarily speechless. When we first had sex, James used his finger to press against my G-spot. I’d forgotten how the feeling could be.
“What does it feel like?” asks James.
“Intense,” I admit, saying the first word which comes into my head.
“Certain sexual positions can stimulate the G-spot,” says James. “But this is more, direct.” He says the word with extreme satisfaction.
“Now,” he says, his tone changing slightly. “You asked me what the app on your phone was for. Allow me to show you.”
Suddenly there is an electronic pulse, deep inside me, and I feel the toy come alive.
I make a loud gasping moan, unable to control the sound as it escapes my lips.
“I take it you like the sensation?” says James. He sounds amused. But I can hardly register it. Inside me, the end of the U-shape feels like a million warm, pulsing flashes. As though every intimate part of me is being deeply massaged at once.
“How are you doing that?” I gasp, fighting to get the words out against the barrage of pleasure he’s creating.
“Surely you’ve heard of remote control?”
“I… Not for this.”
James laughs. “The device works through the Wi-Fi connection on your phone. I’m pleased I can have such an effect on you, from so far away.” He sounds delighted.
“Mmmmm,” I moan as the pulsing continues. It’s as much as I can do not to writhe on the bed.
“Do you think you could come like that?” asks James as the vibrating continues an internal barrage on my senses.
“I… I think so.” It’s difficult to tell. It’s a different feeling from how James has made me come before.
“You think so,” assesses James. “But I think I might like to make you come a little sooner. And more spectacularly.”
More spectacularly? What does he mean?
Then another hot sensation strikes my body, and I realise what he’s talking about. The other end of the U-shape, the one fitted against my clitoris, has now begun vibrating.
“Arrrgh!” I can’t help myself. The feeling is so intense. I feel my entire body convulse and leap towards orgasm. And then, suddenly, the vibration on my clitoris ceases, and my body drops back to the warm internal buzz on my G-spot.
“But I don’t want you to come quite that quickly,” adds James. “The purpose of this is for you to reach orgasm at the point where only your G-spot is stimulated.”
He pauses for a moment, giving me time to sink deeper into the pleasurable pulsing on my G-spot, and then suddenly, my clitoris is alight with sensation again.
“Oh James!” I hear the words without realising I’m saying them. It’s as though my entire body has been gripped in an iron-vice of pleasure. I’m completely powerless to do anything but let it take me. And then the external vibrations stop, and I sink back to the steady stimulation of my G-spot.
But this time, the internal vibrations have pulled me up into another level. They feel stronger, more powerful. As though I were just on the verge of a different kind of orgasm.
“I want to be in complete control of you, Isabella,” whispers James. “Give me your trust, and I will give you pleasure you never dreamed possible.”
“Yes,” I whisper, feeling myself throbbing with desire for him.
“When I next see you,” says James, his voice dangerous, “I am going to show you exactly what that means. You will be utterly obedient to my will. Do you understand?”
The feelings inside of me, combined with his words, are pushing me close to the edge. I would say anything at this moment. Anything this man wants me to say.
“Yes,” I gasp.
“Now,” says James, “I am going to allow you to orgasm. In exactly the way that I choose.”
I moan as I feel the vibrator swirl into action again, sending golden waves of pleasure across my clitoris. Inside me, I feel a warm pull as my body begins to contract.
Then the sensation on my clitoris stops.
But instead of fading down, the internal contractions have now built their own momentum.
I feel my entire body pulsing, throbbing with light, as the powerful waves of orgasm sweep through me.
I throw my head back and moan aloud, writhing on the bed as the force of the feelings take me. I feel as though I am being lifted up, off the bed, and am floating, weightless in an ecstasy of sensation. And then the waves slow and begin to fade, and my body settles, as though I’ve slid into warm water.
“Ahhh.” The first semi-coherent sound comes.
“I take it I succeeded in bringing you to orgasm,” says James. His voice is tight again.
“Yes,” I breathe. “That was... It was amazing.”
“Good.” I can hear the smile in his voice. His tone softens.
“I wish I was there to hold you in my arms.”
“I wish you were too,” I murmur, still drugged with pleasure.
“Get some sleep,” he orders, his voice becoming firmer. “You are due to take an early flight tomorrow. And I need you refreshed for what I have planned for you.”
Somehow, I don’t think he’s talking about acting.
“And remember, Isabella,” he says in husky tones, “if this is what I can do to you without being in the room, think of what I can do in person.”
There’s a click as he rings off. And I’m left to float inside sleep, dreaming of what James Berkeley might be able to do to me in the flesh.
As the cast and crew assemble the next morning, I can barely look at James without blushing.
His expression is infuriatingly self-satisfied as he glances over my face. I look away quickly, images of last night racing through my brain.
James is wearing a white T-shirt and black jeans which would look ordinary on most men. But stretched across his broad chest, and tight around his muscular thighs, it makes me want to dive into his arms and grab his behind.
“I trust you slept well, Isabella,” he says, his lips twitching.
The almost imperceptible crookedness to his otherwise perfect features looks even more sexy this morning. If that’s possible. I feel my fingers yearning to ruffle his tousled brown hair.
“Um. Yes. Thank you,” I manage, trying to push thoughts of kissing his mouth to the back of my mind.
I feel my face burning and pray that none of the crew are observing the dialogue. How is it that he seems to get better looking every day?
Then I hear a familiar voice.
“Isabella! Gorgeous girl. You look fabulous.”
Callum Reed, as ever, larger than life and bursting with compliments.
I laugh. “Hi Callum. Hi Will.”
I wave to Callum and Will, who for a short time acted as my bodyguard.
Although we’ve only known each other a short time, I feel indebted to both of them.
When I was in danger from the Lipstick Stalker, they were true friends. And I will never forget Will’s kindness in insisting on working as my personal protection.
This morning, Callum is wearing tweed trousers and a matching waistcoat with a thick linen shirt. On his stocky frame, they look adorably casual. His brown hair is greying around the temples, but his choice to wear it a little longer than short makes him look youthful.
Will has ditched his security navy for Adidas sweats. He is one of the few men on the planet who makes gym wear look as the manufacturer intended. With his perfect physique, razor-sharp cornrows, and designer shades, he looks like a cross between an athlete and a rock star.
I give them both a hug.
“Did you have enough time to get ready?” I ask, knowing they had less than twelve hours to ready themselves for the Barcelona trip.
“Ample,” Callum assures me. Will grins and rolls his eyes at me. So I can only assume that their packing was a little hectic.
“It’s not us you need to worry about,” adds Will. “Once Mr Reed here has his favourite teddy bear packed, he is good to go.”
I laugh, and Callum shrugs and raises his eyebrows.
“But Natalie Ennis,” continues Will, rolling his eyes again. “You better pray you’ve been good in this life, Issy. Cause I reckon those who misbehave are reincarnated as Natalie Ennis’s packing staff.”
I stifle a giggle. I heard vague shouts this morning from the direction of Natalie’s chalet, which I presumed was her balling out her staff.
“She’s got a lot of stuff,” I suggest.
“Jennifer Lopez has a lot of stuff,” says Callum gravely. “Natalie Ennis could open seven department stores and never need to restock.”
I hide my smile. I’ve resolved to try and think the best of Natalie from now on. Though I can’t help but agree with Callum. It took two whole days to load Natalie’s chalet, and from what I could make out, she wasn’t half done yet.
The sudden decision to fly out to Barcelona must have been a logistical nightmare for her staff.
My thoughts flit to Camilla. This sudden change of plans means further delays in bringing her back on set, since she’s not needed for the location scenes.
I’ve missed Camilla. In fact, I’m missing female company in general. I haven’t been able to get hold of Lorna.
She’s gone incommunicado for a few days. Which is nothing unusual for Lorna, since she can party for three days straight. But I’d love to hear what she’s up to, all the same. I could really use some girl-talk.
I look over to James. He’s talking with some of the crew, and I feel my heart ache. I’d love to go stand alongside him, but I know that would be unwise.
The noise of a plane forks suddenly overhead, and James makes a tiny movement, which I recognise as him flinching, and quickly collects himself.
What’s wrong, baby?
Then I realise. The plane overhead. Callum talked about helicopters arriving if the paparazzi got a good story. James is nervous about press attention before we leave.
All the more reason to stay away from him then. I sigh to myself, wondering briefly if there’s anything he hasn’t told me.
Callum catches the expression and gives me a puzzled glance. I shake my head that it’s nothing. And then a large bus rolls up in front of us. I presume it’s what’s been arranged to take us all to the airport.
I’ve been told the plan is for us to fly charter, since it would be too difficult to arrange clearance for a private jet. But James managed to have all of the first class deck booked out for the actors and crew.
Since I’ve never even seen inside first class, I’m super-excited. But I also feel a little sad that, during my first flight to Europe with James, we’ll be pretending to be work colleagues. Presumably sitting apart. But I squash the feeling.
It will all work out, Issy, I tell myself. You’ll be able to have a normal relationship soon. A less hopeful part of me is not sure that’s possible. Not with James Berkeley.
I turn my attention back to the bus. It’s huge. The kind of transport I can imagine rock stars using on tour.
“Wow,” I say to Callum. “That’s some bus.”
Will nods, letting out an appreciative whistle.
But Callum is shaking his head.
“James had better prepare himself for a battle,” he mutters. “He will never get Natalie Ennis on a bus.”
As Callum is saying this, a harassed looking woman appears on the horizon. I recognise her as Natalie’s personal assistant. I’ve seen Natalie ordering the poor woman to arrange a hat to be flown in from LA.
“Hello, Carol,” says Callum as the assistant draws closer.
“I’ve been sent to tell you, we’ll only be another ten minutes or so,” she explains. “Most of the packing has been finished. I’m sorry we’ve kept you waiting.”
Poor Carol! Having to apologise for Natalie.
Carol is in her late thirties, and I find myself wondering whether she finds it demeaning to carry out the demands of a woman at least ten years her junior.
Judging by Carol’s neat grey suit, she earns a reasonable salary for her efforts. But her limp brown hair, and lined face, suggests it’s taking its toll. She looks exhausted.
“Don’t worry about it,” says Callum generously. “We know you and the staff are doing all you can.”
Carol gives Callum a smile, but it looks like it takes some effort.
“I think it’s going to be difficult to persuade Natalie to get on the bus,” says Callum, gesturing to the transport.
Carol’s face falls. “There’s no limo? But I specifically requested…”
She looks over at James, and seems to be considering her position. I feel for her. I wouldn’t want to be placed between James’s authority and Natalie’s demands.
After a moment, she seems to decide against confronting James.
“I’ll go let Natalie know,” she sighs. And then she turns and walks dejectedly back down the pathway.
Callum raises his eyebrows as she goes.
“Oh dear,” he observes, “I feel sorry for Carol. Looks like we might be in for some fireworks. Let’s hope we can get Natalie on the flight sometime today.”
We land in the steaming sunlight of Barcelona airport. And I can almost hear the crew breathe a collective sigh of relief.
As predicted, getting Natalie onto the bus was a nightmare, and almost all my emerging sympathy for her drained away during the trip.
First we all waited for half an hour whilst Natalie complained and fought for a limo to take her privately to the airport. Then, despite a first class seat, the airline wasn’t her favourite choice, so we had to hear her complain about that.
The only positive to the whole upheaval was watching how well James dealt with her. He was calm, assured, and firm, never losing his temper, but never letting her get her own way either.
As we boarded the plane, he snuck by my side and gave my hand a secret squeeze.
“How you doing?” he whispered in a voice which made my insides melt.
“Good,” I whispered back. “Way to go with Natalie. You’ll make a great father someday.”
His mouth twisted as he fought back a smile.
“I’m hoping children will be less hard work,” he replied. He squeezed my hand again. “I’ve got to be in a different part of the plane,” he added apologetically.
And then he was gone.
Now that we’ve landed in Spain, Natalie has thrown off the petulant child act and gone straight into travelling starlet. She dons shades, stretches elaborately, and treats us all to a wide smile.
“I love Europe,” she murmurs, standing in the aisle. “So much great culture. And parties!” She yawns like a cat and opens the baggage compartment.
Everyone else is taking their belts off and staring at the sunny view from the window as Natalie reaches inside the overhead and yanks hard at a designer purse.
Barcelona airport is an amazing mesh steel construction, and the modern design has almost everyone riveted. So I’m the only one watching as Natalie’s purse catches a little, and suddenly a flood of pill packages tumble out and onto the floor.
My eyes widen in alarm as I watch the blister packs scatter. Natalie curses and ducks down onto the floor.
Are they painkillers? Something else?
Her assistant Carol is in another part of the plane. And no one else seems to have heard the spillage. But from what I can see, they look like prescription drugs. Lots of them. And since Natalie has dived down to stuff them back in her purse, it seems she’s very keen to keep them hidden.
Her fumbling attracts the attention of an airhostess, who moves towards the spillage and stoops down to help.
“It’s fine,” hisses Natalie, trying to shoo her away. But the hostess has already seen the deluge of blister packs all over the airplane floor. She freezes in the act of helping.
“These need to be declared,” she tells Natalie in a thick Spanish accent. “Any drugs must be declared.”
I see Natalie turn her head left and right to check no one else is paying attention to what’s happened. I pretend to be looking at my lap.
“They’re prescriptions,” I hear Natalie say. “There’s nothing here that needs to be declared.”
I look up to see the airhostess is shaking her head.
Oh no. From the airhostess’s expression, it looks as though this is going to be an issue. A sudden headline shouts out at me. “Natalie Ennis arrested for drugs in Barcelona”.
Stupid, stupid Natalie. I feel like screaming in frustration.
Spanish law is strict on prescription medication. If this becomes a customs issue, then the press could easily become involved.
“Drugs need to be declared,” the airhostess is saying. “Spanish law.” But she’s frowning, as if she’s not quite sure what Natalie is saying.
Taking my moment, I slide off my seat and stoop down to join them.
“Es un problema no de,” I say, giving the hostess my best smile. “Estas solo vitaminas. De América.”
It’s not a problem. They’re only vitamins. From America.
The hostess looks uncertainly at me. But she at least seems reassured by someone who speaks her language. I smile again.
“They’ve been through customs already,” I say, continuing to speak in Spanish. “From America to England.”
I’m betting this is true, so I don’t feel so bad lying. I pick up a pack and tap the English writing on the back. It’s a drug name, which I’m unfamiliar with. But there is a price label with a dollar sign.
“You see,” I add. “American.”
The airhostess stands slowly, looking from me to Natalie. I stand too, pulling Natalie up by the arm and hoping no one else is paying attention.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the ever attentive Will has one eye on what’s happening. But everyone else seems too involved in the excitement of the landing. And the noise of the plane engine can still be heard.
“Ok,” says the hostess after a moment, looking at me. “But next time, they need a cabin label. Even vitamins.”
I nod, my face tight with smiling.
“Of course,” I reply in Spanish. “We’re sorry for the inconvenience.”
I breathe a sigh of relief as the hostess turns away, and tighten my grip on Natalie’s arm.
“What the hell were you thinking?” I hiss. “What are all those pills?”
Natalie pulls her arm away from me and bends to scoop the pills back into her purse. She looks as though she’s going to cry.
“I need them,” she mutters. “Hey,” she adds, grabbing my arm, “don’t tell anyone.”
Her voice is small and sad. Like a little girl’s.
“Just keep them hidden, and declare them on the way back,” I mutter. My mind is still racing, but some of my anger towards her slides away.
I decide not to push the issue right now. She looks like she’s on the edge. But once the pills are safely back in her purse, Natalie’s frail expression vanishes.
She tosses her hair and reaches in her bag for a lipstick.
“I am so excited,” she beams, painting herself with a pink smile. “I love Spain.”
I sigh internally, and take a few steps away from her.
The momentousness of what has just happened is running through my head. Drugs. Do I need to tell James? The thought makes me feel sick.
They were only prescription drugs. Does that count?
Natalie’s been through rehab. Perhaps these are part of her treatment and James knows already. That seems likely. But why would she take such steps to hide them?
I push the thoughts to the back of my head, resolving to address them later.
During the flight, I’d been hoping to get more familiar with some of the crew, or at least speak with Callum. But the first class seats kept us spread far apart.
Not that I’m complaining. I’ve never flown first class before, and it was an amazing experience – even for a three hour flight.
I head off the plane, after Callum, and find that James has assembled us all in a group on the runway.
With the hot sun on my face, I feel the familiar thrill at being back in Spain. As a child, I often visited relatives with my mother, and I loved it.
“Everyone’s luggage has already been taken on to the hotel,” says James, speaking to all of us. “The bus will take you there now. The concierge will explain everything when you arrive. We don’t start shooting until tomorrow, so you have a half day to enjoy Barcelona.”
He turns to me.
“Isabella,” he says, “I’m afraid I have some costuming for you, which has to be done now. You’ll have to come with me and have that arranged before you have free time.”
“Bummer,” says Natalie, lowering her glasses to look at me. “We’ll be thinking of you when we’re sipping cocktails in the rooftop bar.”
James gives her a disapproving glance.
“Ok,” I say slowly, trying to spot clues for what’s happening in James’s face, and finding none. “I’ll go with you then.”
“You’ll come with me.”
As the others head to the hotel, James leads me to a private car, which looks practical, rather than romantic.
It seems as though he was telling the truth then, about a costume requirement.
I can’t help but feel a tiny bit disappointed that he doesn’t have some wild date planned. But I console myself. At least we’re spending time together.
“Where are we going?” I ask the moment we’re away from the group.
“I told you,” says James, his face impassive. “We’re heading for costuming. You need to be fitted for a dress.”
“What kind of dress?”
The wishful thinking part of my brain is remembering the tango dancing. Is he dressing me for some exciting occasion?
“Do you remember this part of the movie?” asks James. “Grace attends a ball, as a reporter. So you’ll need a ball gown.”
He must have sensed my disappointment, because James leans close and gives my arm a squeeze.
“Once this boring part of the day is over, I’ll take you somewhere special, I promise,” he adds.
I nod and squeeze back, feeling a flash of annoyance at myself. Here I am, heading to be fitted out for a dress for a huge movie part. And I’m feeling disappointed that I’m not being wined and dined in some fancy restaurant. Talk about ungrateful!
Remember how lucky you are, Isabella, I tell myself.
“It’s not boring for me,” I say with a smile. “I’ve never been fitted for a dress before. It’s exciting.”
And I mean it too. Now I’ve made my peace with where we’re going, it really is an exciting occasion. A real life dress fitting!
The car speeds into central Barcelona, and the beautiful buildings take my breath away.
“Have you been here before?” asks James as I gaze up at the incredible stone carvings and ornate facades.
“Yes,” I reply, “when I was much younger. But I think this city will always amaze me.”
“Really?” James sounds pleased.
“Oh yes,” I reply. The car is heading through a backstreet now, zipping past an array of colourful tapas bars and chic little restaurants. “Barcelona has an amazing energy to it, don’t you think? France is sophisticated and luxurious. But this part of Spain is so full of life. It’s as though everyone is on vacation.”
“I guess so,” he says, staring past me out onto the streets. “I like that it’s such a warren too,” he adds. “There’s so much history here, piled up. You could turn a corner and see a carving which took someone a lifetime to make, just stuck on the side of a building. With no fanfare or tour guides pointing it out.”
His voice is softer. “I find that amazing,” he adds.
“I never knew you were such a lover of history,” I say, regarding the sincerity in his green eyes.
He shrugs and grins at me. “Maybe I’m just trying to impress you with my culture.”
I laugh. “You almost succeeded.”
“Good.” He lets his hand drop onto my leg.
“Remember what I said last night? About what I was going to do to you later?”
I feel my heart quicken.
“It’s a struggle for me to keep my hands off you right now,” he says, eyeing the driver. “But once we’ve got this fitting out of the way, I’ve got plans for you in my hotel suite.”
“Of course, it would have to be a suite,” I say, smiling and rolling my eyes. “What else?”
“What else indeed.” He turns his attention to the road, and the car slows. “We’re here,” he says.
I look out of the window to see we’ve pulled up at a tiny boutique. In the window is an elegant green ball gown, and a few other cocktail dresses.
“It looks nice,” I murmur as James opens the car door for me.
“I thought you’d like it,” he replies. “It’s one of the best dress shops in Barcelona.”
“Only one of the best?” I tease.
“In my opinion, the best,” he corrects himself. “But everyone has their own taste. Personally, I prefer gowns which are elegant and understated.”
“Me too,” I say as he guides me through the small door. “At least,” I add, “that’s what I know from reading magazines.”
James gives a little chuckle at my honesty as he leads me inside.
“You’ll have to get used to it,” he mutters. “If you carry on acting as you have been, you’ll need a fitting for the Oscars.”
I turn to study his face, assessing if he’s joking.
“First things first, Mr Berkeley,” I say sternly. “Let’s see if we can get the movie completed.”
I’m not sure I’m ready for compliments on my acting just yet.
James raises an eyebrow at my comment, but says nothing.
Inside, the shop is empty, but the door triggers an old-fashioned bell. And within moments, a small dark-haired woman in her late thirties appears in the shop. She is artfully dressed in a perfectly fitted suit and wears bright red lipstick and designer half-moon glasses, over which she peers at us.
“Hola,” she says, her red lips breaking into a wide smile.
“Hola,” returns James.
I’d forgotten he spoke Spanish.
“Hola,” I say shyly.
James breaks into a rapid explanation in Spanish. He explains that we have a dress waiting, and I’m here for a fitting.
The woman’s eyes are ranging over me as he speaks, and I assume she’s mentally matching me to the dress I’m being fitted for. Her mouth twitches, as though she’s in on some private joke involving me.
Disconcerted, I catch myself edging a little behind James, and force myself to stand still.
When James finishes speaking, the woman nods and disappears out back. But something in her expression suggests there is something more than just a dress going on here.
“What’s happening?” I whisper to James.
“What do you mean?” he murmurs, his eyes following the woman’s departure.
“She gave me a look,” I hiss. “Is there something about this dress you’re not telling me?”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.” James sounds amused. I purse my lips together, wondering what he has planned.
The woman returns in a few moments with a younger sales assistant. They’re both manhandling an enormous dress bag through the door.
“It’s big,” I say to James, taking in the width and height inside the bag. “I thought you said you liked understated ball gowns?”
“I do,” says James. “I think you’ll find this dress is full of surprises.”
“Es grande,” I explain to the saleswoman with an apologetic smile for excluding her by speaking in English.
“Si,” she agrees, “es necesario.”
Yes. It’s necessary.
She has that twitching smile again. What is going on? Are they dressing me as the world’s biggest prom queen?
I eye the huge bag warily, wondering what on earth could be inside.
James nods for the sales lady to unzip the bag. And she pulls down the opening with a flourish.
To my shock, instead of a dress inside, there’s a face.
I gasp. It’s a person.
What the hell?
Someone has been zipped inside.
Then I realise. It’s Lorna!
I give a loud, delighted shriek, unable to believe what’s just happened.
On either side of the dress bag, the female shop staff are beaming. They were obviously in on it all along.
I dive towards Lorna and throw my arms around her. And in a moment, we are both bouncing up and down and shrieking.
My grin threatens to split my face open as I hug her. It’s as much as I can do to take in. Lorna is here, with me, in Barcelona.
“Surprise!” she grins. “Hey, let me out of the bag, Issy! It’s claustrophobic in here.”
I squeal again and hug her tight before letting her fully emerge. We’re both laughing as I help pull her out. And then it registers how hard James must have worked to get her here.
I turn to him in wonder.
“How did you do this? You brought Lorna over here?”
James is grinning. “You’re pleased?”
“I… I am so pleased. How did you do it?”
“It’s less difficult than you think to corral women to take part in a surprise,” he says dryly.
My face hurts from smiling.
He cocks his head a little.
“I thought maybe you could use some female company, since Camilla is gone,” he adds.
How did he know that?
“I… I did. I do,” I say, still smiling ear to ear. I grab Lorna again, shrieking, and we both do a delighted little dance. “I can’t believe you’re here!”
“Tell me about it,” grins Lorna. “Taking a last minute first class flight. Phew.” She wipes imaginary sweat off her brow. “It was a hardship, I can tell you.”
“But what about your modelling?” I ask, suddenly anxious for her. Lorna has to make castings constantly, or she loses work.
Lorna tips her head towards James.
“Ask Mr Berkeley there,” she says. “He got me a sweet gig out here.”
I turn to him, questioningly.
James shrugs. “We needed extras on the movie,” he says. “Given our recent experience with the paparazzi, I wasn’t comfortable hiring unknowns at short notice. I thought it best to pay a little extra for a professional.”
Lorna grins at me. “Most movies can’t afford models as extras,” she adds, “but Berkeley studios has splashed out for beautiful background people.” She winks at me, and fluffs her afro hair out from where it’s been flattened from the dress bag. “I am way looking forward to movie work. Ex…cit…ing,” she concludes, drawing out the word.
Now I’m looking questioningly at James. Is he blowing big movie budgets just to keep me happy?
“I’d rather pay extra for a known quantity,” he repeats, answering my unspoken question.
Suddenly I don’t care how it was all arranged. I’m just so delighted to see my best friend.
“Thank you,” I say to James. “Thank you so much. You have no idea how happy this makes me.”
“My pleasure,” he says, and I see something dancing in his eyes. “There’s a tapas bar over the street. Perhaps you and Lorna would like to have lunch? Catch up? I’ll come pick you up later. Take you out for the afternoon.”
This day is getting better and better.
“Sure,” I say. “Is that ok with you?” I add, turning to Lorna. I don’t want to leave her alone in some strange city after lunch.
“Oh, don’t you worry about me,” she says, sensing my tone. “I’ve already met some of the crew, and we’re all staying at the same hotel. Come on, let’s get something to eat. I am starved.”
Lorna and I pull up bar stools inside the tapas bar.
Inside is cosy, and a few regulars have already taken seats. But it’s still early by Spanish standards, and we have the bar mostly to ourselves.
James has already arranged us a tab, leaving instructions and a fistful of euros with the amazed restaurant owner. I was sad to see James go, but happy to have time alone with Lorna.
“What’s the deal with tapas?” she asks, eyeing the counter of prepared meats and cheeses.
“Little dishes,” I answer. “You can get the cold ones straight away from the counter. Hot ones they’ll bring out fresh. You’ll like it,” I add, seeing her uncertainty at being in a foreign place.
“This sure is surreal,” she says, grinning at me. “A few hours ago, I was in London. Now I’m eating Spanish food in Barcelona. That James Berkeley really is something,” she adds.
I smile at her.
“Want me to order?”
“Yeah. Sure. Get me some of that,” she adds, pointing to a plate of cured ham. “Ooo and some of those please.” She’s spotted another tasty looking plate.
“I’ll get a selection,” I reply. Lorna’s always been able to eat what she likes and hardly gain an ounce. She says she envies my curves, but I wouldn’t mind being able to eat like a horse and stay super-skinny like she does.
I order a few house specialities. Small dishes of meats, cheese, and salad. And they’re slid onto the counter in front of us. Then I order a dish of hot squid and cooked sausage.
“Cold beer?” asks Lorna, eyeing the fridge behind the bar.
I glower at her, and she holds her hands up, innocently.
“Alright, alright,” she laughs. “So diabetics shouldn’t drink beer. Water then?”
“Water.” I agree. I order for both of us, and within moments, we’re served two glasses of ice cold water with lemon slices.
We chink glasses.
“This is amazing,” says Lorna, looking round. “Tapas. I love it.” She takes a forkful of the cured ham and pairs it with Manchego cheese. “Can’t beat Spanish cheese and ham,” she adds.
I take a drink of water and a few bites of food.
“I’ve missed you,” I say. “What’s been going on?”
Lorna chews thoughtfully.
“Oh, nothing much,” she says carefully. “Just working. You know.”
“You weren’t answering your phone for three days,” I remind her.
She looks down at her plate. I fill in the blanks.
“Were you hanging out with Ben Gracey?” I ask. I try not to sound disapproving.
Lorna sighs, swallows, and picks at the plate in front of her with a fork.
“I don’t know, Issy,” she says. Her violet eyes land on mine. She sighs. “I just don’t know what to make of him,” she shrugs. “It’s so hot and cold with him. One minute he’s interested. The next he seems distant…”
She trails off.
“That doesn’t sound like you,” I observe, taking another bite of food. “Getting involved with someone like that. Usually, you’re the one messing the boys around.”
She lets her elbows sink deeper on the table.
“I know,” she says. “I feel like I can’t help myself when I’m around him. And he always has an excuse for when he’s been out of touch.”
I ponder this.
Ben Gracey. There’s no doubt in my mind he’s bad news. Not to mention, I now know he’s been involved with Camilla. Likely when she was much too young.
You don’t know that for sure, I remind myself.
“I think you should find someone else, Lorna,” I say gently.
“I know, I know. But you know how it is, Issy. The heart wants what it wants,” she protests.
I feel my lips pursing. I’m not sure how I feel about that. Then again, who am I to judge? I’m hardly pursuing the most normal of relationships.
“How are things with you?” asks Lorna. She’s changing the subject, but I let her because I’m honestly not sure what else I can add.
“Good,” I admit. “Really good.”
“Really,” she’s breaking into a grin. “With you and James?”
There’s a momentary pause as two steaming dishes of fresh squid and sausage arrive.
“Mmmm!” announces Lorna, smiling at the handsome waiter. “These look good!”
The waiter gives her a meaningful smile in return before exiting.
Lorna leans close to me and mouths ‘hot!’ after the disappearing waiter.
I laugh, feeling some of my anxiety dissolve. Lorna can’t be too hung up on Ben Gracey. She seems like her old self.
“So, you and the movie mogul,” she presses. “Things developing?”
“Yeah,” I say shyly. “He told me he loved me.”
Lorna gives a comedy choke on a mouthful of squid.
“Seriously? So soon?” She has a huge smile. “Did you tell him back?”
I drop my gaze. “Yeah.”
“Did you mean it?”
“Lorna! Of course I meant it!”
Lorna grabs my hands.
“Oh honey! That is amazing! I am soooo happy for you. He’s nuts about you. You can tell,” she adds with a decided nod.
“Things have been pretty dramatic,” I add, remembering the Lipstick Stalker.
“Why’s that?” asks Lorna, sipping her water with her violet eyes sparkling.
I fill her in quickly on the events of the last week. And Lorna obligingly goes through every emotion with me, leaning forward in fascination for the most part, and grabbing my arm in horror as I get to the part of my temporary capture.
“Oh my God!” she shouts as I finish the tale. “That is like a movie! Serious! I can’t believe that actually happened!”
I smile weakly. It’s nice to talk about it all with someone who wasn’t there. I’ve really missed having Lorna to share drama with.
I feel a little pulse of love for James. He must have known that. He arranged to have Lorna here for me.
“Did you find out anything more?” Lorna adds. “About the stalker?”
“What do you mean?” The question puts an uneasy feeling in the pit of my stomach.
“I don’t know,” Lorna shrugs. “You were such a target. Like he knew so much about you. It just feels like there’s more to the story.”
More to the story? Is there?
I shudder at the thought, and Lorna gives me a reassuring pat.
“I’m sorry, honey,” she says. “Ignore me. I’ve gone all Hollywood on you. This is real life. He’s been caught. That’s the end of it.”
But some little thrill of fear spikes inside me. Like intuition. Telling me there’s more to know about the Lipstick Stalker.
“I don’t know,” I admit. “I’ve been trying not to think about it.”
“Good,” says Lorna. “Don’t. It’s all in the past.”
She wipes her mouth with a napkin.
“Soooo. What are the rest of the cast like? Any known actors?”
I nod. “Natalie Ennis. And Callum Reed.”
“So spill the goss. What are they like? Wasn’t Callum a drug addict?”
“Recovered,” I say quickly. “And he’s really nice. He has a sort of bodyguard, Will. They’re like a double act. Really funny. They’re both great company.”
“And Natalie Ennis?”
My face twists.
“She’s a bit of a diva.”
Lorna nods. “Spoiled brat,” she opines. “You get the same thing in modelling.”
My fingers twist a napkin on the table.
“What else?” says Lorna, noticing the gesture.
“And.” I pause, and sigh. “I saw a bunch of prescription meds in Natalie’s bag. I’m worried,” I admit.
“James is very strict about drugs on set,” I say.
Lorna’s eyes widen. I haven’t told her about James’s past. But something tells me Ben has dished the dirt.
“I’m worried about telling him,” I conclude. “In case it has an impact on the movie. Callum really deserves this break. And Camilla – I haven’t told you about her – but she’s a young actress. She’s lovely. And she’s worked super hard to get a role.”
“Do you have to tell James about what you saw?”
“Well. Yeah. It’s for Natalie as well,” I say. “If she has a drug problem, she needs help.”
Lorna considers this.
“But they were prescription meds,” she says. “And Natalie is in and out of rehab. It’s in all the papers. Probably they’re just for depression or something.”
“Yeah, maybe. But I still feel like I have to tell James.”
“Up to you.” Her expression changes. “What do you think will happen with you and the talented Mr Berkeley?”
I can’t help the smile which creeps onto my face.
“I don’t know.”
“Issy! You are crazy about him!” She shakes her head. “I am so thrilled. With your track record of not dating, I was starting to think you were gay,” she adds. “Except, you know, you never tried anything with me.”
“Lorna!” I swat her arm.
“Just joking. Look honey. I am thrilled. Really. Not to mention that the love of your life has got me a movie role.”
“He’s not the love of my life,” I protest.
“Whatever,” Lorna waves her hand. “I can see it in your face. Just make sure I get to be maid of honour. Then everyone’s happy.”
She gives me a wicked grin, and I feel a surge of love for Lorna. Everything seems so normal with her around. I throw my arms around her.
“Hey! Slow down!” she jokes. “You haven’t paid for my dinner yet.”
I hold her tight and give a laugh, which is somewhere close to a sob. With all the events of the last week, it’s good to hear Lorna make light of things.
My phone beeps in my pocket, and Lorna pulls away.
“Let me guess,” she drawls. “Mr James Berkeley wants you back?”
James arranges to meet us outside the restaurant. And despite my protestations, Lora insists on getting a separate cab.
James eventually agrees but insists on hailing it himself, paying in advance, and taking the taxi’s license.
“Text Issy when you arrive,” he says gravely.
“Do you have a problem with taxis?” I ask as we walk over to where he says he’s parked.
James shrugs. “A class thing probably,” he admits. “The kind of people I was brought up with, everyone had private drivers. It feels alien to me to allow a woman to get into a car with a man she hasn’t met before.”
He pauses for a moment. “It was a wrench to see Lorna get in a cab,” he continues, “so don’t think for a moment I ever would let you take a taxi unaccompanied.”
Whoa. Mr Old-Fashioned is back.
“You do know,” I reply tartly, “it’s the new millennium?”
James face stays stern. “I mean it, Issy.”
“What if I need to get somewhere?”
“You’ll call me, and I’ll send my private driver.”
I sigh, defeated. I might be making some headway on James’s gentle side, but his traditional values still seem non-negotiable.
He’s stopped by a parked car, and it’s a moment before I register.
“This is your car?”
“It’s a hired car.”
We’re standing in front of a sleek blue four-seater with an open top. It has a retro look to it – the kind of car you’d imagine playboys driving in the 1950s. I don’t know much about cars. But I spot the mark is Bentley.
“I’m glad you like it,” says James.
He opens the door for me, and I slide into the passenger seat.
“Did you have a nice lunch?” he asks.
“Yes. Thank you,” I say, looping over my seatbelt.
“Good.” James leans over and satisfies himself it’s properly fastened.
“It’s an old car,” he explains, catching my expression. “Sometimes the seatbelts don’t click in right.”
“Just drive the car, Mr Berkeley, and allow me a little more credit than a pre-schooler. I can fasten my own belt.”
He grins, pops the gear, and cruises slowly out onto the Barcelona backstreet. The car turns, and after a moment, we’re driving along the main road, which intersects with Las Ramblas – the main pedestrianized drag.
Along that route are buskers, pavement seating, and all kinds of colourful stalls. And I can’t wait to walk along it later. But right now, I’m enjoying the sun on my face and the sights and smells of Spain as the car makes along the seafront.
My phone beeps suddenly. I hold it up to James in illustration.
“Lorna says she got back to the hotel.”
“So,” I say, “what exactly do you have planned for this afternoon?”
I’m wondering how low key we need to be. James thought we should be safe from the press, after all.
James waits a moment before replying. “I was planning on taking you to my hotel suite, but this incredible city has changed my mind,” he says.
Are we doing the tourist thing instead of the hotel?
I love the idea of being a regular couple with James. There’s plenty to see in Barcelona, and there’s no one I’d rather see it with.
But I’d also been looking forward to the hotel.
“I picked something up for you,” he says slowly, “whilst you were eating.”
Something about the way he says it changes the atmosphere in the car instantly.
My thoughts swing in a moment, from ice-cream to hotel sheets.
“What’s that?” I feel a little thrill of anticipation from his tone.
“Check the back seat.”
I turn my head. There’s a long slim box, which I hadn’t noticed when I first got in. Then again, the amazing car had arrested my attention.
It’s a plain kind of box. Functional almost.
What could be inside?
“Should I open the box?”
I twist to ease off the lid, letting it fall to the side. And the moment the contents are revealed, I turn back front again, my heart beating fast.
Laying inside the box is a black riding crop.
I feel a spasm hit my groin.
What exactly has he got planned?
“What is that for?” I say, trying to keep my voice steady.
“I think you know,” he says silkily. “I was serious, yesterday. When I said I had plans for you.”
I feel myself swallowing. Part of me is scared. Another part is wondering what is going to happen.
“The choice is yours,” he adds, “as to how that particular item is put to use.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’m not taking you directly back to the hotel,” he says. “I’m taking you to an appointment.”
“What kind of appointment?”
“An appointment in which you’ll be expected to show obedience.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Then you’ll be making a choice, Isabella.” His eyes flick towards the back seat. “Every act of disobedience will have consequences.”
Even though I’m sitting down, I feel my knees weaken. What exactly does he have in mind?
“Reach into the backseat,” he says smoothly, “and pick up the riding crop.”
I turn to him, but he keeps his eyes on the road.
“Do as you’re told,” he growls. “Or I might pull over and use it on you, right here and now.”
I swallow, and reach into the back seat.
My hands close around the smooth leather, and I pull the crop onto my lap. It’s bound all along with a single seam. And the end is a short loop of heavy fabric. I’d like to try it out against my arm, to see what it would feel like. But I don’t dare with him sitting next to me.
“Are you imagining what it might feel like?” he asks.
“Yes,” I admit.
“Good. I want you to keep that image in your head,” he replies.
The car slows, and he pulls into a side street. Then he gets out of the car and walks around to open my door.
“Bring the crop with you,” he says.
My fingers close around it uncertainly as I get out of the car.
“Where I’m about to take you,” he says, “I want you to keep an open mind. But remember. Your obedience is required.”
“And what if I don’t want to be obedient?”
“Then you will be punished,” he says simply.
I let out a breath and get out of the car, the crop held tightly in my hand.
He takes my arm and leads me towards a tiny door. Where are we going? Multiple possibilities flit through my head. Some sort of club or party? He told me to keep an open mind.
The riding crop feels ominously heavy.
James eases the door open, and we’re faced with a staircase. He gestures that I should go ahead.
There is a familiar smell in the hallway, and my mind shifts to identify it. Linseed oil. I’ve smelt it a thousand times in my mother’s studio. It’s what artists use for oil painting.
Are we in an art studio?
As I get to the top of the stairs, my suspicions are confirmed. We enter an almost empty studio filled with canvases.
The floor is bare boards, and the walls are plain. A few shafts of sunlight burst through a half shuttered attic-style window, lighting swirls of dust. If this room was empty, you’d imagine it had been abandoned.
But various paintings and artist’s materials give it a bohemian look. The paintings are in oil, and they’re all of nudes. Beautiful women, of all shapes and sizes.
In the centre of the room is a luxurious-looking chaise lounge. And to the far side, a large desk covered in paper, paints, brushes and pencils.
James emerges on the stairs after me.
“Do you like the paintings?” he asks.
“I… Yes.” Now I’m even more uncertain. “You’re going to paint me?”
James shakes his head.
“These have been painted by someone far more talented than I am,” he says. “As much as I would love to paint you, Isabella, I would not do you justice. And I certainly wouldn’t have anyone else paint you.”
“Why are we here then?”
“Be careful, Isabella,” he murmurs. “Too many questions sound like insubordination to me.”
The riding crop in my hand feels hot, suddenly.
“I’m going to take some photographs of you,” he says.
“The artist who owns this place was kind enough to lend me his studio,” he continues. “And I can’t think of a better setting to shoot the kind of images I’d like. Of you.”
Of me. My heart starts hammering. I’ve posed for pictures before. But something tells me these won’t be regular modelling shots.
His eyes move to the chaise lounge.
“What kind of photographs?” I venture.
His look is enough to silence me. James leans forward and gently removes the riding crop from my hand.
“Take off your clothes.” His mouth is inches from mine.
I feel a surge of uncertainty.
Something about the tone of his voice is impossible to resist. I feel my hands reach up and unhook the back of my dress. Then I let it slide to the floor.
I am left standing in a set of black underwear, which he bought me.
I hear him make an intake of breath.
The bra is low, and my nipples jut over the top. The panties are little more than an arrangement of ribbons.
James steps back, and assesses.
“Interesting that you should choose that underwear,” he observes. “A man might assume you were looking for a certain kind of treatment.”
I lick my lower lip nervously. I wore this underwear for him. But I hadn’t envisaged it being revealed in quite these circumstances.
James walks towards a desk in the corner and opens a drawer. When he turns around, he’s holding a camera with a professional looking lens.
“It’s important to your education,” he says, “that you allow yourself to be objectified by me.”
“Make you my possession,” he clarifies.
Is that what I want? Reduced to my underwear, my courage is deserting me.
James raises the riding crop and signals to the chaise lounge.
“Lie down,” he says.
I head for the chaise lounge, keeping my eyes on the riding crop. Then I lower myself slowly onto it, facing forward.
James takes a few steps nearer and lays the riding crop on the floor, directly in my range of vision.
“The crop won’t be in the photographs,” he explains. “But I want to capture your reaction to it.”
I find myself wondering what my face is showing.
“I don’t want you to act,” he says. “I want you to let the feelings show naturally in your face.”
I nod slowly.
James raises the camera.
“When I’ve finished taking these pictures,” he says, “I’m going to slide off your panties and whip you with the riding crop.”
I haven’t time to moderate my expression as several thoughts converge at once.
The camera clicks, and whatever I was feeling is caught on the lens. I try to assess it in retrospect. Arousal? Fear?
James raises his eyebrows as he examines the screen.
“You have no idea how incredibly sexy you look,” he murmurs, “when you’re struggling between decency, and arousal.”
I feel my face burn. He’s described it so accurately. Part of me is so ashamed. Another part is undeniably turned on, and I can feel how wet I am already.
“Take off your bra,” he orders.
I unhook it, and as I do so, James unleashes a flurry of shutter shots. I let it fall away to the sound of more photographs being taken.
“Lie back,” he instructs.
I let my bare back recline. The fabric of the chaise lounge feels cool against my bare skin.
As I’m thinking this, James clicks a few more times. I wonder what it is he’s seeing.
He moves the camera away from his face for a moment. And there’s something in his expression I haven’t seen before.
“I adore you,” he says quietly. “So much of your beauty is in your strength.”
He puts the camera carefully down and walks towards me. For a moment, I think he intends to pick up the riding crop. But he leaves it on the floor as he steps closer.
Then he seats himself next to me on the chaise lounge.
I look at him questioningly.
He runs a hand slowly along the curve of my stomach and lets it rest on the thin fabric of my panties. I feel my body surge with heat.
“I had plans for you,” he murmurs, letting his thumb slide along the top of my panties. My skin shudders as he moves it slowly from left to right.
Then he moves the other hand, so he has a thumb positioned under either side of my panties, resting on each hip bone.
He gives a firm tug, and I moan as he frees my panties and works them over my thighs.
With one hand, he moves them across my knees and gently over my feet. Then he swings them idly for a moment, and lets them fall to the wooden studio floor.
He holds one of my knees and slowly pushes the other one downwards, so I am completely revealed to him. The sudden cool air between my legs makes me gasp.
“So wet already,” he observes.
I feel myself falter, to be so laid bare to him. Instinctively, I move to close my legs, but he restrains me, putting a hand on my knee.
“I planned to take a variety of pictures,” he explains, his green eyes on mine.
His eyes flit towards the riding crop. And then something loads into his expression.
“I want to make love to you,” he says simply. “Issy, I can’t resist you. Lying here. So beautiful. I love you so much.”
Whoa. This feels like a complete change in direction.
He’s asking my permission, I realise, and I open my arms out to him.
“Yes,” I say, pulling him close.
His mouth meets mine, and the combined feelings are like an explosion. Lust and love are a heady mix, and as his tongue touches mine, every cell in my body is calling for him.
“I want you naked too,” I whisper. He moves back slightly, and starts to pulls away his clothes so fast, that I suddenly realise just how much he wants this.
Within moments, his T-shirt and jeans are on the floor. My hands reach to tug at his boxers, and they catch, for a tantalising moment, at what’s underneath, before he springs free.
Wow. No matter how many times I see the size of him, it still takes me by surprise.
He’s breathing heavily, and I feel him, hot on my neck, and he moves back into my arms.
“Oh Issy,” he groans, and his mouth is on mine again.
Everything seems to fall away, and for that moment, there is nothing but him.
Then I feel him hard against my leg, and in the next moment, he is rolling on a condom and pushing himself deep inside of me.
“Ahhh!” I cry out, and he begins to move. It’s urgent, but not rough. As though he needs my body. I open myself up to him, pushing my hips up to let him in deeper.
“Wait.” He grabs my hips and lifts me up whilst still inside of me. Then, with his free hand, he pushes a cushion under the small of my back.
“Mmmmm,” I moan. The cushion has lifted my clitoris to be in contact with him as he thrusts in and out.
I push even further forward, melting into the feeling.
“Am I touching where you need me to?” he whispers, slowing down his urgent movements inside of me.
“Yes,” I gasp, grabbing his hips with my hand. “Please James. Don’t stop.”
He groans again, and begins moving faster. And with every thrust, I feel something build from my clitoris through my entire body.
James’s hand moves up the side of my neck, to hold my head, and his mouth is close on mine, following my every movement.
Then his thrusting seems to hit a new place, and all at once, I explode. My body pulses, and my hands clutch at his hips.
I cry out, and as I do so, James moans, and I feel him come inside me.
Then he’s holding my face in his hands, staring into my eyes.
“Oh Issy,” he whispers. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too,” I answer, losing myself in his green eyes.
We lie like that, across the chaise lounge, tight in one another’s arms.
My eyes flick to the riding crop on the floor, and James catches the gesture.
“Don’t think you’ve got away without your punishment,” he warns. “This is just a reprieve.”
“Oh really?” I let my bare foot caress the side of his leg.
“Yes,” he says. “I’ve still got a lot planned for you, Isabella Green.”
We emerge from the artist’s studio onto the sunny backstreet. And it’s as though the mood of the whole day has shifted.
The last hour has loosened our tensions, and we could almost be like any other holidaying couple as we fall out into the Barcelona sunlight with our arms around one another.
James turns to me, and his face is beatifically calm. His green eyes are alive.
“I think this is the happiest I’ve seen you,” I smile at him.
“Really?” He pulls me a little closer against his body. “This might be the happiest I’ve been.”
His eyes fix on mine, letting me know I’m part of the reason. And I grin back at him. We’re lost in straight-out beaming at one another, for a second.
“I’ve only got you to myself for another hour or so,” says James. “Let’s do something a normal couple would do.”
“What’s that?” I ask.
He grins. “I honestly have no idea. I’ve never been in a normal couple.”
“That makes two of us,” I admit.
James steers me around in a full 360 turn and begins walking me away from the seafront. “Actually, I don’t want us to be normal,” he says. “But I’ll settle for happy. I want to take you somewhere.”
“There’s a famous park a few blocks north of the city. We can leave the car here and have a walk around it.”
“Sounds very normal,” I say approvingly. “I accept.”
“Not quite,” he admits, “It’s a Gaudi park. Gaudi the artist. There’s a lot of interesting sculptures and art.”
“Oh Mr Berkeley,” I tease, “of course it’s not just an ordinary park. I wouldn’t expect anything less of you.”
The entrance to the park is like a themed tribute to quirkiness. Two giant Hansel and Gretel style buildings sit on either side of the entrance, complete with white terracotta roofs which look like icing. Up ahead, I can see two huge curving sets of steps lined with colourful tiled murals on either side.
“It’s amazing,” I say to James, taking it all in. It’s quite the oddest and most interesting park I’ve ever seen.
With the bright blue sky overhead, the park entrance has a surreal feel. As though we’ve stumbled into a Spanish version of paradise.
“Do you like it?” asks James, steering me through the entrance.
“I love it,” I admit. “It’s almost too much. But not quite.”
“Sounds like a girl I know,” says James, echoing his words from one of our first dates, after he rescued me in Camden.
I laugh and lean in closer.
“It feels like so long ago,” I say, “when you first said that to me.”
“I haven’t changed my mind,” says James, raising an eyebrow. “If anything, you’re careening towards the right side of too much.”
I laugh again and let my gaze wander up the winding curved stairs ahead, to the riot of greenery at the top.
With my arm looped through James’s, this feels like heaven. I close my eyes for a moment, not wanting the feeling to end.
James turns me on his arm and tilts my chin so I’m gazing into his eyes.
“Did my great big grin give me away?”
He laughs and gently kisses my mouth.
“I’m so grateful,” I say, “for you flying Lorna out here. You didn’t have to do that. It was amazing.”
“Good,” he says. “I know I didn’t have to do it, Issy. But I’m glad I did.”
“Was it expensive?”
He frowns a little. “I would have flown her out here a thousand times over,” he says, “just to see the look on your face.”
“Oh Mr Berkeley!” I laugh. “You say the nicest things.”
“It’s true,” he says. “Seeing you so happy. It felt like a privilege that my actions could do that.”
He looks down suddenly, and I sense it’s time to change the subject.
Oh James. Your demons again?
I remember what James said when the stalker was loose. That he fears everyone he cares about gets hurt. And I still don’t know what painful part of his past caused that.
But James also said he felt he could protect me, after the stalker was caught.
Are his insecurities coming back to haunt him?
“Hey,” I say, an idea forming as I spot a mosaic temple construction at the top of the steps. “How about a little bet?”
“Oh yes?” He releases me a little from his arms, his eyebrows raised in amusement. I feel the dark shadow of his mood slip away.
“If you lose,” I continue slowly, “I get to do whatever I like with you, this evening.”
I see his breathing tighten.
“And if I win?” His voice has thickened.
I pause, letting the words sink in.
“You get to do whatever you like with me.”
“Whatever I like?”
He grins wickedly. “I’m looking forward to this evening already.”
“You have to win the bet first,” I remind him.
“What are your terms?” he says, his voice filled with mock gravity. But his eyes are deadly serious.
I turn my head slightly, taking in the view from the top. And then I back away from him, slowly.
“See the summit?”
I smile at him, backing away further, and then I turn and run.
“First one to the top!” I shout over my shoulder. And then I race full pelt for the top of the steps.
I hit the first few steps at speed, weaving in and out of the day trippers and tourists. The steps are just narrow enough for me to take them two at a time.
I know I’ve got a great lead, and it’s only when I’m halfway up that I risk a quick look behind me. It’s then I realise that James is faster than I gave him credit for.
Damn. He’s closed a lot of the distance already. I dig in and keep my pace. I have good cardio from all my time in the dance studio, so I know I can beat him.
Close but no cigar, Mr Berkeley. I’m a fast runner.
I’m all but grinning to myself at the thought of it as I power up the steps. I can’t wait to see his face when he loses.
I’m still taking the approach two at a time, steaming past the baffled tourists who are meandering up at their own pace.
He must be closing in now, but my lead is too good. I let my breathing deepen, panting as I take the last few steps. I’m only a couple of strides from victory.
And then suddenly, James is ahead of me, bounding up the last part of the stairs. He grabs me full by the waist as I get within one step of the top and spins me bodily around and upwards to the top.
I am shrieking with shocked laughter as he lifts me up the last two steps.
“You didn’t think I’d let you win, did you?” he growls, whirling me around by my waist. “Not with a prize like that.”
“Put me down!” I laugh.
“Oh Isabella,” he says, setting me to the floor but keeping his arms around me. “You have put yourself in serious danger.”
“Oh have I?” I push a lock of dark hair out of my face.
He kisses my mouth, slowly.
“Yes,” he whispers, pulling back a little. “But I’m guessing you knew that before you started the bet.”
He shakes his head. “Gambling with me over a running challenge, Isabella. Very foolish.”
“How come you run so fast?”
“With an opportunity like that at the finish line?” He grins. “I would have won with lead weights on my legs.”
We wander through the rest of the park, conscious that our time together is drawing to a close. James has scheduled at actor’s meeting this evening, in lieu of dinner. He’s already explained to me that food will be provided, but the main agenda will be work.
I sigh at the thought of giving him up. Even for a few hours.
Now seems like the right time to bring up the Natalie issue. So I raise it tentatively.
“I saw something,” I say, “in Natalie’s bag.”
James’s face flickers.
“Natalie had some… medication of some sort,” I continue. “She seemed quite keen to hide it.”
“I imagine you would too,” says James levelly, “if you were taking medication for a mental health issue.”
His voice sounds calm, but there is just a touch of danger behind it. As though he’s warning me not to push the issue further.
I weigh up what I saw, and what he’s telling me. James knows then, that much is clear, that Natalie is using prescription drugs. So I’ve nothing more to worry about, I suppose. Though I can’t help but have a lot of questions.
How can James work with her, when she’s taking drugs – even prescription ones?
“Natalie can be difficult to understand,” says James, conceding to my unspoken curiosity. “At the moment, she needs medication. Your friend Lorna has medication for her diabetes. I don’t see the two issues as particularly different.”
He sighs. “I’m hoping that Natalie will become a little more likable. Right now, she’s battling some serious issues.”
I feel a childish stab of jealously that he seems to know so much about Natalie. But something in his tone warns me not to ask any more.
We’ve walked back onto the main street now, and there’s a large elaborate church just across the street.
“You want to go in?” asks James. “It’s beautiful. Inside.”
“Sure,” I shrug, happy to have a reason to change the subject. The church is Catholic, which is my mother’s religion. I’m not a devoted practitioner of Catholicism, but I feel comfortable in Catholic churches.
We cross the road, and James pulls out his phone and clicks it to silent as we near the entrance.
I cross myself as we enter the church, and James smiles at me.
Inside is quiet, peaceful. And I feel myself slip into a thoughtful mood with James beside me.
All this devotional beauty has put me in another frame of mind, and I find myself thinking seriously about our future together.
In the short time I’ve known James, I’ve fallen for him hard. There is no question in my mind that I am deeply in love with him.
Of course, I’ve never thought about marriage, or what it might be like to live with him. It’s too soon.
But I’m suddenly realising, with a kind of shock, that I can’t imagine my future without him. The church seems to be prompting these thoughts, and I don’t try to dispel them.
We walk through the nave, keeping a silent respect for the church. And come to a standstill in front of a collection of flickering candles.
“Would you like to light one?” asks James quietly.
My mother and I always used to light a candle for my father. It’s been years since I did that. But standing with James, I feel strong. I feel as though I want to remember some of the things I tried so hard to forget.
“Yes,” I whisper.
James pushes a handful of euros into the box and passes me a candle.
Keeping my gaze centred on the flames, I tilt my wick into the fire and watch as it blazes to life. Slowly, I press it into place, amongst the other burning lights.
As I watch it burn, a few faint memories of my father swirl in my brain. I let them rise and fall in the candle flame. Thinking of him feels comfortable.
Then unbidden words pop into my mind that I haven’t heard for a long time.
Papa. Why did you leave us?
The memory shocks me so rigidly, my entire body freezes. Then I see that beside me, James has lit two candles and is placing them reverently with the others.
Two candles. One for his mother. Who is the other one for?
Suddenly I know, and the thought fills me with horrified outrage.
The ex-girlfriend. The one who died.
I know I should feel respectful for his loss. But the anger rises up so quickly, I hardly know where it’s come from. All I know is that I don’t want this. I don’t want these feelings which come so thick and fast when this man is here.
Why is he always making me think about painful memories?
And before I know what I’m doing, I turn and race out of the church.
“Issy!” James is stumbling after me as I run, blinking into the sunlight. “Issy! What’s wrong?”
He catches me in his arms, and I wriggle to be free of him, but he’s too strong.
“I don’t want this!” I shout, not caring who hears. “I don’t want any of it!”
“Shhh.” He pulls me closer, and I feel my body begin to convulse in sobs.
“It’s your stupid method, isn’t it?” I accuse, although some of the anger is coming out of me now. “Your acting method. You want me to feel… All this pain.”
I am struggling to breathe and get the words out through the sobs.
“Well I… Don’t. Want. It!”
I take a deep, juddering breath, and James holds me close. I don’t know why, but I let him.
“Issy,” he says softly. “This is nothing to do with my method. I wouldn’t do that. Not without telling you.”
“Then why?” I accuse. “Why take me in there and let me see that?”
He’s quiet for a moment, and his face shows confusion.
“You didn’t like me lighting two candles,” he says slowly, as though working something out.
I say nothing in reply.
“Listen.” He pulls me away from him a little, so he’s looking in my face. “I respect the dead, Issy, and I like to honour those who have passed. But I have never felt about anyone, living or dead, the way I feel about you.”
His face is so sincere, that I give another sob. And then I’m halfway between laughing and crying.
James’s face breaks in slight relief, but there’s still an anxiety there.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me,” I say. And I don’t. This laughing, crying mess, is not who I usually am.
“There’s nothing wrong with you,” says James. “You’ve just never let things out, that’s all.”
Is that true?
But I don’t have time to analyse what he’s saying. In the next moment, he’s pulling me back inside the church.
“Quick, Issy,” he hisses. “Get inside.”
“What? What is it?” I can hardly make sense of what’s going on before I’m dragged back.
“What?” I repeat as I’m physically bundled back inside the large church opening.
James steps in quickly behind me, surveying the scene on the street.
He yanks out his phone suddenly and stares at the screen.
It’s one of the few times I’ve heard him swear. Something must be very wrong.
“What is it?” I venture, my earlier hysterics completely forgotten in the sudden drama.
“There was a man outside,” he says. “I think I recognise him. He’s a reporter.”
My eyes widen as I try and take in what he might mean.
James holds his phone out to me in explanation. “And it looks like my press people have been desperately trying to get hold of me in the last few minutes,” he adds.
My heart sinks.
“Does that mean they’ve found us?”
James makes another peak outside the church entrance.
He looks as though he’s considering something for a moment.
“Wait here,” he says. “Don’t move an inch.” And before I can protest, he steps back out onto the street, in the direction of the newspaper reporter.
I stand in an agony of suspense for what feels like an age. And then I hear footsteps and see James return. His face is grim as he walks towards me. Without saying a word, he wraps his arms around my waist, and I feel myself falling into the familiar smell of him, warming in his body heat.
“What happened?” I ask, frightened of the expression on his face.
“I took care of it,” he says, his voice dark.
“Wait. You took care of it? What does that mean?” I pull back a little from his arms.
“We were lucky,” he says. “I knew that reporter. I’ve met him before a few times, in London. I have a good connection with him.”
“But it still confirms my worst fears. It looks as though someone in the cast or crew is still leaking information. That reporter wasn’t here by accident. He was following a lead.”
My eyes widen.
“There’s nothing to worry about for the moment,” adds James. “I was able to persuade him to take his interests elsewhere.” His face looks strained.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” says James, “I made it worth his while to drop the possibility of a story.”
“You mean, you bribed him?” I am shocked.
James smiles a little and shakes his head. “No, Issy, I didn’t bribe him. I don’t go in for illegal acts,” he adds.
“I negotiated a story swap,” he says. “I promised him an exclusive interview.”
An interview? James told me didn’t do interviews anymore.
“I thought you hated interviews?”
His mouth sets in a grim line.
“They’re not my favourite thing.”
“And that’s all it took?” I ask slowly. “An interview with you? To make him drop a story about us?” This seems very unlikely.
What has James promised?
James leans forward and kisses my nose.
“Shhh,” he says, “I don’t want you overthinking this. I would walk over hot coals, Issy, to protect you. In comparison, an interview is easy.”
He gives me a half-smile at this, and I don’t know whether to be mad at him.
“Did you find out anything more, about where the leak came from?” I ask.
James eyes darken.
“No,” he says shortly. “Not really. Although we can presume it was the same mystery person who made the first leak.”
“Why do you think that?”
“The leak was made using the same phone – the same number. The reporter was good enough to share that with me. Newspapers track things like that,” he adds.
“Then can’t the reporter give you the phone number?”
James shakes his head resolutely. “Journalists have gone to prison rather than give up their sources, Issy,” he says grimly. “I know better than to even ask.”
I am quiet for a moment, turning this around in my mind.
“Do you have any more ideas who it might be?” I say eventually.
“I have a few ideas,” says James.
I am thinking through the crew. Aside from Natalie, Callum, and I, we have Will on security and around twenty crew members. Natalie’s entourage was mostly left in London, with the exception of a hair and make-up expert and her downtrodden personal assistant.
“Would someone get money?” I ask. “From leaking information?”
“Only if a story runs,” says James, “but yes. They would stand to make tens of thousands, if they brokered the right deal.”
“Do your press people think it’s someone who knows that?” I ask. “Is it someone who knows how to make deals with the press?”
“I don’t have that information yet,” says James, but he’s looking at me admiringly. “I’m expecting a full report tomorrow.”
“What do we do in the meantime?”
James’s mouth sets in a hard line.
“We wait and hope whoever’s doing this messes up.”
By the time we arrive back at the car, I can hardly believe what a carefree couple we were only hours ago.
As he opens the door to let me in, James is brooding and silent, clearly turning over in his head how best to track down the press informant.
I’m still wondering what to make of it all. I’m new to this, so I don’t really know if this is commonplace. But something about James’s reaction suggests this is serious.
Once he sees me safely belted, James pops the gear and races out onto the Barcelona roads.
Whoa. This is fast. Something about James’s driving tells me more about his mood, than his silence.
I throw a nervous glance his way, and he sighs and slows fractionally.
Now that I’m not watching the Spanish streets hurl past at quite the same pace, I have more space to reflect.
I let myself tussle over the mystery of the leak.
Who might it be?
My first thought would always be Natalie. Since she has an addiction to press coverage. But since James says it’s the same person making the leak, it couldn’t possibly be her.
I flick my mind back to our conversation outside the chalet. There’s no way she could have phoned through a leak to the press without me seeing it.
My thoughts turn to Natalie’s personal assistant. Poor, downtrodden Carol. Could she be leaking information?
Carol isn’t as self-obsessed as Natalie. Maybe she drew a different deduction from the truck which filled my chalet with flowers.
I decide it’s an unfair suspicion. I’m only considering Carol because she’s associated with Natalie. I have no more reason to suspect her than anyone else in the crew.
I let out a little huff of air, frustrated with the whole situation.
James glances to me for a second, and then turns back to the road. I resume my thinking.
How horrible, to be betrayed by someone and not know who. It must be worse for James. He’s worked with this crew before, and he obviously trusts them. It would be terrible if one of them has started leaking information.
Then again, there is a lot of money at stake. Maybe the temptation of thousands of pounds is too much, even for an honest person to bear.
James turns to me again.
“Are you nervous about the actor’s meeting?”
“I was,” I admit, “but it seems as though there might be bigger things to worry about.”
James returns his eyes to the road.
“Once we’ve found out who the leak is, we’ll have nothing to worry about,” he says. His tone is unreadable.
“In any case,” he adds. “I have some news about the movie.”
“I was hoping to be able to tell you in a more relaxed fashion,” he says, his face serious. “But the latest leak has rather put paid to that.”
“It’s ok, James,” I say, touching his forearm. “Whatever I need to know, just tell me.”
My heart has started to beat slightly faster. I know the scheduled meeting tonight will involve his Berkeley Method. But I don’t know the details. Is he about to tell me it will be worse than I feared?
“I told you I would reveal who the male lead is at the meeting,” he continues. “But I may as well tell you now.”
My heart slows almost instantly.
The mystery male lead. I had all but forgotten about it.
“Who is it?” I’m not as excited as I usually would be, given the circumstances. But I’m still keen to know.
“Until about a week ago, I was still seriously considering Michael Bass,” he says slowly.
Michael Bass. Gorgeous. Screen God. Am I glad it’s not him? It’s hard to know.
“But on measure,” continues James, “I think that would create too many problems with Natalie.”
The other slated male leaps to mind. It must be Shane Peters then. I’ve seen Shane in a couple of movies. He’s known as a bit of a bad boy.
“So you’ve cast Shane?” I conclude.
“No,” says James, still concentrating on the road. He lands his green eyes on mine. “I’ve decided against Shane as well.”
“Who then?” I ask. “Someone unknown?”
“In a manner of speaking.” He takes a deep breath. “It’s me,” he says. “I’ll be playing the male lead.”
James plans to act in his own movie?
I have to admit, it’s less of a surprise than I might have imagined.
I think on some subconscious level, I must have suspected this would happen.
The question is, how do I feel about it?
“That sounds like a challenge,” I say carefully. Because I honestly don’t quite know how to take this.
“Yes,” answers James shortly. “But you understand why it’s necessary.” He says it like it’s not a question.
James smiles. “I could hardly watch another man kiss you and retain a professional job to my directing.”
I smile at this.
“Oh James. You can’t possibly be suggesting changing your whole movie because you’d be jealous of a screen kiss.”
“I’m not,” he says quickly. “Well,” he revises, “if I’m totally honest, that was a small part of the decision. But not all of it,” he adds hastily, his eyes on mine again.
Then he faces forward, and his face sets, as though what he plans to say is difficult for him. I wait for a moment, giving him space to speak.
“I started out in acting,” he says, “when I lived in Hong Kong. A long time ago.”
I say nothing, letting him get the words out.
“I went into direction because it gave me more control,” he continues. “And after I developed my method…” he pauses for a moment, “I realised I wasn’t ready to give that level of honesty to my work. So I stayed out of acting.”
“And now?” I ask quietly.
“Now I’m ready,” he says. His voice sounds determined. “Things have changed. I think I can be more open.” His eyes seek out mine. “You’re a big part of the reason.”
His words bring a surge of joy. I’m so proud that I’ve helped him become ready to open up.
But the happy feelings are quickly replaced by a strong jet of fear.
Does this mean I’ll be expected to open up too?
I’d pushed the idea of his acting method to the back of my mind. If I’m honest, I’d lied to myself, pretending it wouldn’t be the confessional I feared.
Now he’s telling me, it would be exactly that.
James is prepared to give more. To tell more. Using his method.
Am I willing to do the same?
“What’s wrong, Issy?” he asks.
I realise, suddenly, what he’s giving me. And a few happy feelings spill over. A little.
“I’m touched,” I say, “that you feel you can be more open. Because of me. I didn’t know I’d had that effect on you.”
“I hope you never know the effect you have on me,” he says. “You might realise that you could take full advantage.”
He’s smiling now, and the moment to voice my fears has passed.
“Are you ok with this?” he says. “Could you act alongside me?”
“Do I have a choice?” I keep my tone light, to deflect attention from how I’m truly feeling. But James seems to pick up on my uncertainty.
“Yes. I could still cast Shane. He’s already told me he’d come at a moment’s notice for one of my movies.”
I don’t want that, I realise. I don’t want to be kissing another man in front of James. Even a screen kiss.
But do I want to act with James. A memory of the first audition is burned on my brain. Acting with him. It was so… intense.
“Don’t cast Shane,” I hear myself saying. “I want you.”
“Interesting choice of phrase.”
“I need you to think about it carefully. I can’t change things once it’s all set. For one thing, it would look suspicious.”
“Yes,” I say determinedly. “I do want that. I want to find out more about you. Every last bit of you.”
But do I want you to find out about me?
Lost in thought, I hardly notice when we pull up at the hotel.
And despite my troubled mood, I am at least able to acknowledge that James has once again picked a fabulous spot.
The hotel is on one of Barcelona’s incredible plaza-style squares. It’s an enormous old building, built in the neo-classical style, with a grand façade and intricate stonework.
“Wow,” I say, as we slow to enter the underground car park of the hotel. “This looks amazing.”
James blinks and turns to look at me. Clearly, his mind was elsewhere.
Poor James. First the stalker, now this press leak.
“I’m glad you like it,” he says. But his voice sounds distracted. I feel my stomach tighten. Is this going to be a real problem? We’ve only just dealt with a dangerous stalker. In comparison, surely a newspaper leak couldn’t be so bad? But something about James’s demeanour warns me that he’s taking this very seriously.
I sigh as the car enters the car park.
It’s like everything else in life, Issy, I tell myself, drenching up a familiar motto, which I often use in times of trouble. One foot in front of the other. Just keep going forward.
All the actors are assembled in one of the hotel conference rooms, which has been temporarily convened for rehearsal purposes.
After we got back, James and I just about had time to shower and change in our separate rooms before making it down to the scheduled meeting.
Dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, James looks younger. He seems to have been able to leave his fears for press leaks at the door. And he slips into professional director mode with ease.
There’s something authoritative about him in this guise, which I love. Even though I can’t be close to him physically, I find this part of his personality super attractive.
What’s with that, Issy? Do you like him being in charge?
Whatever the reason, I feel my eyes roaming over his sculpted features and broad chest. I can’t wait to be in his arms, later.
Then I remember the bet I lost, and a fission of thrilled fear runs through me.
The riding crop. I promised him he could do whatever he liked with me.
Will he even remember? With the dramatic turn of events, he might have forgotten.
I push the thought to the back of my mind. For the time being, I’m called upon to be professional.
It’s only Natalie, Callum and me in the room. We’re seated in a semi-circle, with James standing.
Lorna and the other extras and crew are at a different meeting, elsewhere in the hotel.
“I’ve talked to you all, individually, about my method,” James says after having welcomed us to the meeting. “And I have another important fact to inform you of.”
He runs his fingers through his hair.
“A few of you will know that my background is in acting,” he says.
Callum nods at this, but Natalie looks blank.
“So I hope you’ll be pleased,” continues James, “to know that I’ll be taking the lead role in this movie.”
“You?” Natalie voices the word in pure shock, and then looks embarrassed.
“I mean. That’s great,” she backtracks, turning to include Callum and I. “But can you be sure you’ll be able to give the rest of us enough attention as a director?”
James nods patiently.
“You don’t need to worry about that, Natalie. It won’t affect my direction.”
Natalie looks unconvinced. But sensing she has no support from Callum or me, she shuts her mouth tight, looking pained.
“What it means for this session,” continues James, “is I’ll be joining you.”
He gives this a moment to sink in.
It suddenly hits me with full force what a sacrifice he’s making. James Berkeley. Introverted and fiercely protective of his personal life, prepared to lay everything on the line and open up to all of us.
He’s doing it for you.
The thought almost brings tears to my eyes.
“Now it’s time to get started with the first exercise,” James is saying. “It will take real bravery. But I know you all have what it takes to get deeper into your roles.”
I let my eyes slide over Natalie’s face. She’s chewing her lower lip, and she looks nervous. Callum’s face is impassive, resigned almost. As those he’s mentally preparing himself.
I know they must have been briefed in part, before accepting their roles, as to what they might expect. But I don’t know how much they know about The Berkeley Method. Probably as little as I do.
No wonder they both look anxious. For my part, I am absolutely terrified.
James reaches into his pocket and draws out a small fabric bag.
“Inside this bag, I have four slips of paper,” he says. “Each has on it a different word explaining a different emotion.”
I feel my stomach tighten, and my heart begin to quicken.
What will we have to do?
“We’ll each draw out a slip of paper,” says James. His eyes are only on my face, as though he’s trying to reassure me. But it hardly registers in the whirl of fear I feel rising in my body.
“What I want you all to do is think of a memory associated with that emotion,” he explains.
No, no, no!
This is one of the main reasons I dodged as many acting classes as I could at drama school. I always hated having to spill in front of the group.
Script writing allows you to control what emotions you show.
Maybe that’s the real reason I chose writing over acting.
James is still speaking, and I force myself to tune back in.
“And then we’ll each write down a few paragraphs about that memory,” he explains. “After that, I’ll read them out.” He pauses a moment to make sure we’ve all understood. “They’ll all remain anonymous,” he adds, “so no one has to know the memory is yours, unless you want them too.”
In the maelstrom of emotions, this has a calming effect. I mentally do the math. Four of us. No one has to know which paper was mine.
The thought makes me feel slightly better.
“The point of the exercise,” says James, “is to help you open up to one another. The best acting comes from a feeling of trust and support in the cast. That’s what we’re looking to build in these method sessions. But we’re starting gently.”
I sneak a look at Natalie, wondering if there’s a chance she’d ever feel close to her fellow actors. To my surprise, she looks accepting, as though she was expecting this.
I guess she’s just come from rehab. Maybe they do a lot of this kind of stuff.
“We don’t have to write a lot, do we?” Natalie asks. “I’m not the world’s best writer.”
James shakes his head. “Just a few paragraphs. No need to worry about spelling or grammar.”
Natalie nods, looking relieved.
It never occurred to me that she would struggle with basic writing. But I realise that as a child star, she probably missed out on a lot of schooling.
I feel a little sad for her, wondering how a poor education might have limited her options. There’s not much else she’s qualified for, if her acting dries up.
James lifts the bag and shakes it.
“Callum?” he says, “would you like to go first?”
Callum stands and approaches James. He pushes his fist inside the bag and makes a little joke about fishing for the paper, twisting his face as he mauls the bag.
Finally he pulls out a slip, and holds it aloft.
“I have my slip,” he announces, returning to his seat.
Natalie is already heading towards the bag as he sits down. I can’t see her face, but from James’s stern expression, she’s looking for clues as to which paper to pick.
“Just take a slip, Natalie,” says James calmly. “There’s no way of telling the difference.”
She picks out her paper, and James regards me.
“Issy,” he says, “would you like to go next? Or shall I pick mine?”
I shrug. “Pick yours.”
I can’t imagine it would make any difference.
James plucks his out of the bag. I see his face shift as he regards it. But beyond that, I can’t make out what he’s feeling.
He heads over to me and holds the bag out.
Watching his face, I dip my hand inside and close it around the last piece of paper.
I feel James’s little finger sneak out and softly stroke the top of my hand.
An electric current shoots through my body, and in that sudden moment, I’m shot through with desire for him.
I return him a little secret smile, and then pull my hand out, the paper in my closed fist. I walk away, driving down the sudden surging feelings, and try to concentrate on what’s expected of me.
“Alright then,” says James, moving away. “You have pens and paper beside you on the floor. We’ll take five minutes or so to write out our memories. Just do the first thing which comes into your head.”
I unfold my paper with a deep sense of dread and read the single word written there.
I feel my face fall and work to marshal my expression to neutral. This is better than I feared, I guess. The worst would be ‘grief’ or ‘loss’.
Nevertheless, it’s not a nice emotion to investigate.
I take a glance around the group. Everyone has similarly downcast expressions, so I’m guessing all the emotions are difficult.
The knowledge that we only have five minutes forces me to act. I have no time to search for the answer which makes me look the best.
Everyone else is already scribbling away. They must be aware of the time constraints too.
So I just write the most shameful thing which comes to mind. It’s an effort, and I’m almost forcing my pen to move.
Ugh. What a horrible exercise. I’m hating myself, just writing this.
I’ve barely gotten the words down when James announces the time is up.
“How did you all do?”
No one answers, and judging from all our faces, no one enjoyed this exercise.
“Ok,” says James, filling in the silence. “No one enjoyed that. I certainly didn’t. If we could all toss them back into the bag, and we’ll get on with the next part.”
Silently, we all add our papers to the bag.
James shakes it up.
Then he reaches in and pulls out the first slip.
“I’m not going to tell you the emotion that generated any of the memories,” says James. “I’m just going to read it out. And we’re all going to discuss what might have been behind it.”
All of us have grim, anxious faces. I suddenly feel a little closer to Natalie. She looks just as worried as Callum and I.
“When I was ten years old,” reads James, “My dad came to pick me up from a movie set. I was so excited. But he left me on set for two hours whilst he took the producers for drinks to try and land himself an acting role.”
My eyes widen in amazement.
It must be. She’s the only one of us who was acting so young.
I feel a surge of respect towards her. She must have known we’d work out it was her memory. How brave of her.
I turn to Natalie, and she gives me a little shrug and a half-smile.
Callum, too, is staring at Natalie in admiration.
“What emotion,” says James, “do we think that was based on?”
This jolts me back into the exercise.
“Fear?” says Callum. “Perhaps the person feared their father didn’t love them?”
“Very good,” says James. “Issy?”
“Pain,” I say. “Rejection, maybe.”
Poor Natalie. I give her an apologetic glance.
James nods. “It seems as though many emotions could be present. Let’s try another one.”
He pulls a second paper out.
“When I was in the depths of my drug addiction,” he reads, “I stole money from my father’s home.”
Is that James? It could also be Callum. And if Natalie’s paper hadn’t been so obviously her, it could have fit her experiences too.
The thought hits me, suddenly, as to what a large ex-drug problem is in this room.
I realise that no one is speaking. The drugs revelation seems to have prompted a silence.
“Desperation,” I say, to fill in the gap. “The memory is of a desperate act.”
James raises his eyebrows slightly and nods. Callum, who seemed to have been frozen, suddenly twitches back to life.
“Relief,” says Natalie.
I turn to her in surprise.
“I know it sounds ugly,” she says, “but when you’re an addict, getting money for drugs is a relief.”
I’d never thought of it that way. But then, I don’t know too much about drug addiction. Natalie’s medication flips to the front of my mind.
“Time for the next paper,” says James, plucking out a third memory.
As he opens it up, I get a flash of the front and recognise the handwriting as my own. Part of me wants to sink into the ground. Another part of me wants to share. Everyone else has been so courageous.
“After my father’s death,” reads James, “I was so angry with him, I didn’t attend the funeral.”
I sit perfectly still, with my breath held.
As far as I know, neither Natalie nor Callum would be able to work out this is my memory. James, of course, knows immediately. His eyes move to mine, loaded with feeling. They’re full of something I can’t quite place. Admiration? Love? I look away quickly.
“Anger,” says Callum, sounding pleased to have such a straightforward deduction.
Natalie nods. “Anger, and loss,” she says.
Anger and loss? Is that how they read that memory? I am filled with shock. How could they not interpret that memory as shameful? I didn’t attend my own father’s funeral, for God’s sakes.
Their reading of my memory throws me into an entirely different understanding of it. And I realise that maybe this is part of James’s method. Everyone, must understand their emotions differently, when they’re seen through other people’s eyes.
I’m still wondering at this when James plucks out the last paper.
“When my father remarried,” he reads, “I was so upset, that I refused to meet my new stepbrother.”
Wow. Is that James? Or Callum? I find myself glancing between the two, trying to work out who looks the most affected.
I have no idea about Callum’s background. I don’t know if his parents divorced or remarried.
And I know that James did meet at least one of his stepbrothers. Ben. Did he have any other stepbrothers? I have no idea.
On measure, I decide, Callum looks the most moved by this statement.
“Betrayal,” says Natalie. “The person felt their father had betrayed them by remarrying.”
“Pain,” I suggest, “that a new brother is being brought into the family.”
Neither Callum nor James speak. And James quietly returns the paper to the bag.
“I have something to share with you,” he says, “about that exercise.”
We all stare at him expectantly.
“It was interesting to hear you all voice different emotions,” he says, “and I am very grateful that you have all been so honest.”
His eyes settle on Natalie for this last part.
“But I thought you would be interested to know,” he concludes, “that you all had the same emotion to draw upon.”
What? A ripple of surprise goes around the room.
“All of you had the word ‘shame’ written down.”
Wow. Really? I can’t believe that those other memories were prompted by that word.
On either side of me, I see Callum and Natalie’s faces work around this new piece of information. I’m doing the same.
The revelation throws all the other admissions into stark relief. All of those memories. They were things people were ashamed of?
I let my mind track back. Stealing from your family to buy drugs. I can understand that would be shameful. But Natalie’s memory. Of her father deserting her. She feels ashamed of that? Why?
The new understanding prompts another wave of feeling towards her.
And refusing to meet a stepbrother after a remarriage. It seems… excessive to be ashamed of that. It’s not beyond the realms of understanding, after all.
“So,” James is saying, “does anyone have anything to add with that new piece of information?”
There’s a brief pause, and then I clear my throat to speak.
“Isabella?” asks James. He sounds surprised.
“I think,” I say slowly, “that the memories I heard didn’t sound shameful. They sounded sad. So perhaps we’re harder on ourselves than others would be.”
My own memory is racing through my head as I speak. Should I reconsider the shamefulness of my own actions?
James is nodding. He looks pleased.
“That is exactly what I want you to start thinking,” he says. “Most people feel worse about their behaviour than we give them credit for. As actors, you can use that knowledge to add real texture to your roles.”
We’re all taking this in.
“Think about the hidden things your character might be feeling,” adds James. “I hope you’ll find it helpful.”
It has been helpful. And I am struck with deep pride for James. He really knows how to expand an actor’s sensibilities.
The exercise has really opened my eyes. It’s done something else too. It’s made me think so much better of Natalie.
“We’ll wrap up there,” James is saying. “There’s a buffet in the next room, and we can grab a bite to eat. Thank you all for participating. I hope you can apply what we’ve learned.”
We stand, and Callum and I smile at one another. Then I make towards Natalie.
“Hey,” I say, touching her arm, “that was really brave of you, to be so honest about your memories.”
Natalie gives me a shy smile.
“Oh, well, you know,” she says softly, “I’ve just come from rehab. It probably comes easier to me. Rehashing all that shameful stuff.”
She glances up and me, and her deep green eyes look intensely vulnerable.
“All the same,” I insist, “I really admire you for doing it.”
Natalie’s face transforms into gratitude.
“Thanks,” she mumbles, playing with her hair. “That means a lot.”
I hadn’t realised how hungry I was until we stepped into the buffet room. But when the smell hits me, I feel suddenly famished.
The nerves of revealing parts of my past must have subdued my appetite, I realise. But now it’s over with, and nothing terrible happened, I am ready to eat.
As we enter the room, we see the rest of the cast has already arrived. I grin. Lorna is talking to a young male props handler who I recognise from our early rehearsals.
“Shall we get some food?” asks Callum. This time, he’s including Natalie in the conversation. And I realise that the Berkeley Method is having the same effect on him as it is on me. It’s making him warm towards Natalie Ennis.
Who’d have thought it?
I smile to myself, wondering if this isn’t part of James’s genius.
“Sure,” replies Natalie. She stares over at the buffet.
“Bread,” she says with a grin. “Goody.”
Knowing her usual refusal to have carbs in her presence, Callum and I exchange glances. Maybe the Method is working on Natalie too.
James has gone back to his hotel room, and I find myself wondering whether this is deliberate, to further bonding between the rest of us.
Callum and Natalie drift to the buffet, but I head over to where Lorna is standing, telling them I’ll be back in a minute.
Lorna turns and notices me in the last few seconds before I reach her.
“Hey, Issy!” She grins at me. “Come meet David. He’ll be making your props. Sounds like an amazing job.”
“We’ve met already,” I smile, shaking David’s hand. I remember him from before. He looks uncertain as he returns my handshake.
“Hi,” he mumbles shyly.
“Hey listen, Lorna,” I say. “I’m just going to grab a plate of food. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Sure,” she smiles. “Make sure you load up. The food’s amazing. In fact,” she adds, “would you grab me another piece of chicken?”
“Sure,” I reply. “David, would you like anything?”
David looks surprised. Flustered even. I judge him to be in his early twenties, around the same age as me. So I can’t imagine why I would have that effect.
“Um. No. Thank you,” he manages.
Lorna winks at me. “There’s no need to be star-struck,” she says to David, “Issy is normal. I promise.”
I widen my eyes at Lorna, but she just grins back.
“Better get used to it, Ms Leading Lady,” she says. “Take it from me. I’ve been with the extras and crew all day. You’ve got a lot of fans already.”
Poor David flushes red.
“Oh, ok,” I babble, unsure of what to say. “I’ll be right back with your chicken,” I manage, heading for the buffet.
Fans? I’m not sure how to handle that.
My mind is spinning with how I would cope with any level of fame, since it makes me uncomfortable to have admirers in the crew. But my need for food soon takes over.
I grab a plate and bunch in next to Natalie and Callum. From the pile on his plate, Callum has taken full advantage of Will’s absence to load up on carbs.
Natalie’s plate only has salad on it.
“Whoa, Callum,” I joke, helping myself to some vegetables and chicken. “Looks like a carb binge.”
“Don’t tell Will,” he says, flicking his eyes back and forth in pretend terror.
I glance back at Natalie’s plate. I don’t feel close enough to her to ask if she plans on eating anything besides salad. So I concentrate on stacking up my own food.
The choice is incredible, and I have to restrain myself from trying a little of everything. Instead, I aim for a compromise. Rice and vegetables, with a decent sized piece of fried chicken. And one extra for Lorna.
For a moment, I think that Natalie might join us to eat. But she heads over to a little cluster of her entourage instead.
Callum raises his eyebrows at me.
“We can’t expect her to change overnight,” he says.
I nod, and Callum joins me as we head to join Lorna and the props handler.
“Hello, Mr Reed,” says Lorna, almost tripping as she dives forward to shake his hand.
Callum is encumbered by his buffet plate, so he balances it on one palm as Lorna pumps his palm enthusiastically.
“I have always wanted to meet you,” enthuses Lorna. “I am a huge fan. I love your movies.”
“Thank you,” says Callum, smiling. “You’re very kind.” I glance at his face, struck by the grace and ease at which he deals with this all.
As a normal person coming into the scenario, I am suddenly realising how very strange it is to have perfect strangers approach you in this way.
David the props handler is obviously overcome with nerves, and Callum introduces himself politely and strikes up a conversation about the movie.
I turn to Lorna.
“Do you have any plans for later?”
I’m wondering if I can squeeze in a drink with her between rehearsing my lines for tomorrow.
Lorna looks guilty.
“Um. Yeah. I kinda do.”
I glance at David.
“You’re going out with the props guy?” I whisper, leaning in close. That might be a good match, I decide.
But Lorna is shaking her head.
“No. It’s not like that. We’re just friends.” She takes a breath. “Ok, Issy, don’t get mad. But Ben is taking me out.”
Of course I know which Ben she’s referring to. But I’m so shocked, the words come out of my mouth before I can stop them.
Callum turns fractionally at my outburst, and then returns to quizzing David about the props.
“Yeah…” Lorna is twirling a strand of her Afro hair into a single perfect curl.
“How did he get here?” I demand.
“I told him I was out here on the movie, and he flew out earlier today,” says Lorna, defensively.
“Did you clear it with James?”
“Listen,” she says, her eyes flashing, “Ben doesn’t need to ask permission to fly to Barcelona to see his girlfriend.”
“You’re his girlfriend now?”
Something about this isn’t adding up. Why is he suddenly calling Lorna his girlfriend?
“That’s what he said.”
“Why is he suddenly so keen?” I ask suspiciously. “I thought he was hot and cold.”
Lorna’s face tightens in annoyance.
“It is possible, you know,” she says, “that a man could like me.”
“I…” I open my mouth to protest, but she carries on talking.
“We might not be a movie star couple like you and…” she stops herself, seeing my face flash a warning glance towards David.
“Well, you know what I mean,” she finishes. “Anyway. I told him I was in a movie, and he flew out earlier today. Simple as that.”
“You told him you were in a movie?”
Something is beginning to lock into place in my mind.
“Did you say which movie?”
“Of course,” replies Lorna. “Well. Not the name. But I told him James Berkeley was producing it.”
My whirling thoughts are fitting together. Ben flew out today. Then a reporter arrived in Barcelona.
Something tells me this is too much of a coincidence. Ben was one of the few other people who could have made the connection between James and I.
I know he doesn’t like James. This would be the perfect way to hurt him.
Suddenly I’m certain.
Ben Gracey is the leak.
I need to tell James. Now.
For a long moment, I think James might not open his door. And then the handle turns, and I see his handsome face deep with worry.
He has his mobile phone in his hand, as though he’s just been making a call.
“Issy? What is it?”
I push past him into the room. And when he shuts the door, I turn to make my revelation.
“It’s Ben,” I say, still slightly breathless from running up the stairs. “I think Ben Gracey is leaking information to the press.”
James raises an eyebrow but doesn’t say anything. He places his phone carefully on a table.
“I think he’s been getting information from Lorna,” I continue. “I mean…” I hesitate, having not thought this part fully through. “Lorna wouldn’t have told him,” I clarify. “But I think he’s worked things out. Through her.”
“Are you sure about that?” asks James. He looks as though he’s thinking carefully.
“Yes,” I say certainly, “I asked Lorna not tell anyone. But I’ve been texting her. All Ben need do is look through her phone.”
James mouth twists, considering this.
“Ben flew out to Barcelona this morning,” I conclude. “Just before you ran into that reporter.”
James bites his lip and begins to pace back and forth.
“You’re sure he flew out here today?” he says, stopping for a moment to assess my face.
“Yes. He’s taking Lorna out somewhere this evening.”
James sits heavily on the enormous double bed.
“Come here, Issy,” he says quietly.
Bemused by his tone, I pad over the deep carpet and seat myself beside him.
He puts his arm around my waist.
“I don’t think it’s Ben Gracey,” he says, finally.
My heart sinks. I had been so sure.
“Why not?” I manage.
“I haven’t told you much about my past with Ben. I think I owe you some information. I don’t want you to see him as the bad guy. I behaved badly, when I was younger. He has some understandable antipathy towards me.”
“Yes.” James sighs. “Let me tell you a little more. The exercise we just did, with the memories? I’m guessing you couldn’t know mine. Am I right?”
I nod slowly. Either he stole money from his father’s house or refused to meet his stepbrother.
“My shameful act was refusing to meet my stepbrother,” says James. His eyes are on mine.
“You refused to meet with Ben?”
“No.” James shakes his head. “I met with Ben. But Ben has an older brother.”
He pauses, and I wait for him to continue.
“Ben was barely a teenager when his mother married my father,” he explains. “But his brother was a little older.”
He takes my hands in his and toys with them distractedly.
“Ben’s brother was in a private mental institution,” he says. His face looks so sad, that I want to throw my arms around him. But I sense he needs to talk.
“He had a serious mental illness,” he continues, studying my palms. “My father wanted me to go and meet with him. Make him feel part of a family.”
He’s examining my hands intently, turning them in his.
“I wouldn’t,” says. “I didn’t want to fly back to England. I was mostly schooling in Hong Kong, and I’d already started hanging with the wrong crowd.”
He raises his eyes to mine, and they are filled with shame. “It was a selfish thing to do,” he concludes. “It’s one of the reasons why Ben has so much bitterness towards me. And I don’t really blame him.”
“But why should Ben be so angry that you wouldn’t meet his brother?” I ask, struggling to understand the situation.
James sighs. “Ben was of the opinion that a stable family unit could help his brother recover. To his mind, I should have been part of the picture.”
“But you must have been only a teenager yourself,” I say, doing the mental calculations. Ben is only a few years younger than James.
James nods. “Even so. From what I heard, Ben’s brother gradually deteriorated. Ben blames the fact that he was never welcomed into the family. Partly, he blames me.”
“But that makes no sense!” I insist, outrage rising up. “Ben has no right to blame you. Your father and his mother divorced. In the end, there was never a family to welcome him into. Who’s to say meeting with you wouldn’t have made him worse, when the marriage broke up?”
James sighs. He looks tired.
“I’ve more or less made my peace with it,” he says. “But I do understand why Ben doesn’t like me. It might not be totally rational, but I wanted you to know that I am at least half to blame for how he feels about me.”
“Wait,” I say, trying to get my head around it all. “Just because you think Ben has a good reason not to like you doesn’t mean he isn’t leaking information. From what you just told me, he has a pretty good motive.”
“Ah yes,” James gives me an indulgent smile. “There is a little more to that side of the story. But I’m afraid you’ll be frustrated. Since I can’t give you all the details.”
“Why not?” I press.
“I’ve already told you why. Do you remember, we had a conversation about Camilla and Ben?” asks James.
I search my memory. I questioned James about what had happened between them. He told me he would leave it to Camilla to fill me in if she wanted to.
But I never got around to asking her properly. Camilla left the set before I could quiz her. And with all the drama around the stalker, it all went out of my mind. Until Lorna mentioned Ben today.
Some friend I am. I mentally chastise myself. I was so bound up with James, I’d stopped paying attention to my friends’ love lives.
“I remember,” I say hesitantly. “You said you weren’t prepared to tell me what happened.”
My eyes sweep his face. Will he tell me now?
“I haven’t changed my mind,” says James. “It would be disrespectful of me to tell Camilla’s story, on her behalf. If she wants to tell you, she will.”
I can’t deny I’m a little frustrated by this. But I respect him too, for keeping Camilla’s secret so diligently.
“What I will say,” James continues, “is that what happened with Ben and Camilla is the main reason why I don’t suspect Ben of leaking to the press.”
My mind is instantly fired with a thousand questions, but I can see from James’s face that I shouldn’t ask.
“Just take my word for it,” says James. “Ben owes me.”
What could the reason be? I can’t help but be intrigued.
“You’re absolutely sure?” I say, staring into his eyes. It had all fit so neatly. I’m not quite prepared to give up my explanation so readily.
James considers for a long moment.
“Yes,” he says finally. “As sure as I’ll ever be. You need to trust me,” he adds. “I’m dealing with this.”
I nod slowly. I do trust him.
He kisses my forehead.
“I’d never risk your reputation,” he says. “I’ve got my best people on the case, and we’re doing what we can. We’ll close off the leak soon.”
His words are reassuring. I give him a little smile.
“But I think you might have put yourself in some danger coming here,” he adds. His voice has a different cadence to it now.
My stomach tightens. What have I done?
“Should I not have come to your room?” I whisper.
James is shaking his head.
“Hammering on my hotel room door, in full public view, is not very smart.”
“No one saw me,” I say quietly.
“You cannot risk that,” he says, and I flinch at his tone.
“I’ll remember that in future,” I say. “Don’t be angry at me.”
James is shaking his head again.
“I am angry at you, for putting yourself at risk,” he says. The smallest ghost of a smile is now evident on his face. “And then, there’s the little matter of a bet you lost earlier today.”
I feel myself blanch. The bet.
I promised he could do whatever he liked with me.
“And now, here you are,” says James. “You’ve thrown yourself right into the lion’s den. And you’ve made me angry with you as well. Whatever do you think your punishment will be?”
James reaches to either side of me and pins both of my hands tight to the bed.
“I take it you remember losing the bet?” he says.
I nod, feeling my hands pinioned by the weight of him.
“Don’t try to get away,” he murmurs as I wriggle against the grip. “So,” he adds, “how do you think I should punish you?”
“I don’t know,” I say weakly.
A mysterious expression slides onto his face, as though he’s calculating something. And I am struck, suddenly, with our earlier conversation.
James offered me so much by choosing to open up in rehearsal. And I never thanked him. I was too busy thinking about myself and my own past.
How selfish of me, when he was giving me such a gift.
I don’t know how these thoughts are playing on my face. But something in James’s expression shifts, from assessing to certainty.
He releases my hands suddenly. And I feel as though I have agreed to some unspoken pact.
“There will be no ropes and no restraints, Isabella,” he says, his voice thick and dark. “You’ve agreed to your punishment when you lost the bet. So I expect you to lie perfectly still whilst I administer it.”
I feel my eyes widen in shock. What does he mean to do? My mouth is dry.
“You will be unbound whilst I discipline you,” he continues, “as proof of your perfect submission.”
My perfect submission. Is that what he wants?
“What is it you mean to do to me?” The words come out with difficulty.
For a moment, I think he will refuse to tell me. Then he stands slowly.
“Wait there,” he says. “Don’t move an inch.”
I sit frozen as he walks across the huge hotel suite and vanishes into another aspect of the room.
Then in a moment, he’s back again. And I see in his hand, he’s holding the riding crop.
I feel my breath constrict as I eye the riding crop in his hand.
“Is that what you’re going to use?” I ask, my eyes following him, and he walks towards me.
“Yes.” He says the word without emotion or explanation.
This is it then. This is what he means to do. Am I ready for it?
We’re a few metres apart now. James stands, the riding crop held slightly apart from his body.
His demeanour has changed. The crop seems almost part of him. His stance is harder, his expression stern.
I feel myself swallow.
James has disciplined me before, but it always felt a little like a sexy game. This seems more serious.
“Are you going to hurt me?” I ask, my voice quivering.
My stomach lurches. But I catch something in his face, something which suggests that maybe this is a game after all.
“Badly?” I ask.
The hardness in James’s face is transfused with a flash of warmth. Then it closes up again, and he’s back in character.
My eyes fall to the crop, standing rigidly apart from his body.
I can still refuse. Even with the bet and everything else. I sense this is the moment when I could stop.
I think back to what he did for me today. Becoming part of his own method. Opening up.
I set my face. “Then tell me what to do,” I say, mustering up as much bravery as I can manage. My body is already responding to the scenario, flushing me with warmth. But I have no idea how I’ll feel if he actually uses the crop on me.
James gives me a look of admiration. Then slowly, he raises the crop and taps it against his palm. As though he’s considering.
Do I want him to do this?
Deep within me, I feel an insatiable lust roar up.
I want this so badly, I realise. I want everything about him. And right now, I am prepared to endure pain to get it.
James smacks the crop against his palm, and the sudden crack makes me jump.
Once again, feelings of fear flood in. I have no idea what I’m letting myself in for.
James’s eyes roam around the room, and settle on a small writing desk.
Using the crop, he points towards it.
“Walk over to the desk,” he says.
A thrill of lust and fear mixed pulses through me. It’s such an intense feeling, that when I stand to do as he asks, my legs feel weak beneath me.
James watches as I pad across the carpet to the desk. I’m wearing the leather knee-high boots he bought me, and it passes my mind that I should have taken them off.
I reach the desk, and turn to him, questioningly.
“Put both palms flat against it,” he orders.
Slowly, I flat my palms against the shining wood.
In a second, he’s behind me. I can feel how hard he is.
He places the riding crop on the desk. Just a few inches in front of my hands.
Then he’s hitching up my skirt and roughly pulling my panties down.
I feel myself convulse at his touch.
“Keep still,” he says.
He’s silent for a moment. I feel suddenly shamed and vulnerable to be standing with my panties half down and my skirt hitched above my waist.
Then I feel his mouth at my ear, and my eyes close. I love the way he smells.
He leans in front of me and picks up the riding crop.
“Slide your hands forward,” he whispers, so you’re bent completely over the desk.”
I push my hands along the smooth wood until my stomach is flat against the desk. My naked behind is now pointing upwards towards him.
I feel his hand graze over it, and my entire body tingles.
“Do you want to be punished, Isabella?”
Do I? I can’t deny the fact, that part of me wants this.
“Yes,” I admit in a small voice.
And then I hear the riding crop whistle through the air and connect to my behind with a crack.
My whole body jumps as the end of the crop strikes. The sensation is completely unexpected. It’s intense, but it’s concentrated in such a small area, that it’s not painful, as I feared. In fact, it’s thrilling.
I feel my nerve endings come alight in a network of hot pleasure.
There’s another crack, and I feel the crop hit another area of my behind. I flinch again, as the sparkling feeling radiates out from where I’ve been struck.
Then comes another. And it’s as though my behind is being brought to another level of sensation.
Wherever the crop strikes, it’s as though an ice cube has been touched against the skin. The feeling radiates out in a delicious mix of cool and warmth.
“Open your legs,” says James.
Is he going to strike me there? The thought is compelling and terrifying all at once.
Slowly, I inch apart the top of my thighs.
I feel the crop hit me between the legs, and I gasp. I feel as though I could have almost reached orgasm in that sudden slight contact. It was such a strong sensation.
“Do you want me to fuck you now?” asks James.
I nod into the desk. It’s what I want more than anything. My body is burning for him.
“Say it,” he demands.
“I want you to fuck me.”
I’m expecting him to drive into me from behind. But instead, he pulls me up, away from the desk, so I’m standing, facing him.
Then he kisses me, and the world disappears as my body melts into his. I can feel the crop in his hand, hard against my thigh, and the feeling adds another kind of fission to the kiss. More than anything, I want this man.
He lifts me up, keeping his mouth on mine, and places me on the desk. I am sat facing him, and he stands between my legs. Then he reaches down and pulls my panties full away, letting them drop on the floor.
His mouth pulls away from mine for second, just long enough for me to drink in the dark and dangerous expression on his face.
And then he grasps each of my thighs roughly, and forces them wide apart.
I blink as my legs open to him, stretched to the brink of their flexibility.
“I like that I can open you so wide to me,” he says. “And that you’re so wet.” Then his eyes are on mine, as he unzips his fly and frees himself.
With his eyes locked on me, I can’t see what he’s doing, but I like the hardness of him pressed between my legs. I hear a foil packet tear open and feel the movements of his hand rolling on a condom.
My eyes half-close, dizzy with the pleasure and animation of him.
“I’m going to take you hard,” he says.
Then his hands grip hard into my buttocks, and I gasp.
I feel him poised to enter me, and he pauses there, teasing me.
In the next moment, he slams me towards him, entering me fully. I let out a loud moan as his body thuds hard into me, building speed.
At this angle, he can enter me as fully as he likes. And he uses his hips to hammer his length deep inside me.
“Arrgh!” I tip my head back as his body jolts mine back and forth on the desk. His pace is increasing, and his hold on my buttocks tightens as he slams into me.
“Oh God, Issy!” he moans, reaching up a hand and knotting it into the hair at the base of my head. He grips it, securing my head tightly in his fingers, and forces my gaze straight into his smouldering eyes.
“Open your mouth,” he commands.
I let my lips part a fraction, and he forces his thumb inside my mouth. Then he pulls it out and moves it down to my clitoris.
The feeling of his slow delicious movements there are too much to bear. I feel myself buck and twitch as he keeps up the steady, tantalising stroking.
“Come for me,” he whispers, slowing the pace of his thrusts. “I want us to come at the same time.”
I feel my thighs beginning to shake as the stroking begins to lift me towards orgasm. And then my mouth seeks his as the first shuddering wave crashes over me.
“Oh God,” murmurs James, his words half lost as he kisses my mouth. “I can feel you, Issy. I’m coming.”
He lets out a loud moan, and I feel him come as I reach my peak.
We cling to one another as the molten pleasure cascades. For a long moment, the hotel room fades away, and there is nothing but us. Nothing but the white hot world we’ve created. And then we’re gasping, sweating in one another’s arms.
“That was incredible,” whispers James, holding me tight and murmuring into my ear. “You are unbelievable, Issy.”
“So are you,” I say shyly.
I feel James’s mouth move into a smile by my ear. “I don’t know about that,” he says. “But behind every good man is a good woman.”
I laugh, and he lifts me up off the desk and carries me across the room.
“Now,” he says, his eyes setting to a more serious expression, “I have a slight professional dilemma, Ms Green.”
“And what is that?”
He sets me carefully down on the bed.
“If I had my way,” he says, “I would have you so many more times tonight that you would be tired tomorrow.”
“And, as you know, tomorrow is a big day for you. Your first shots on location.”
James settles down next to me, so we are both stretched out. Then he moves my hand across to his groin.
“But as you can see,” he says, “I’m a man with particular needs, where you’re concerned.”
I can feel him growing hard beneath my touch already.
“Mr Berkeley,” I say, “you’re insatiable.”
He leans across and tugs my earlobe gently with his teeth.
“Only where you’re concerned,” he says. “Issy, you’ve given me a new interest.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’ve shown me how to make love,” he says. He sounds almost apologetic. I turn to look into his green eyes.
“I’m glad you liked it,” I say shyly.
James gives me a wicked grin. “You might not be so glad tomorrow,” he says. “All that kinky stuff, Issy, I love doing that with you.”
I turn away, so he can’t see me blushing.
“But making love to you…” He leaves a long pause. “I just want to do that all day, every day.”
He tilts my face back, so I’m looking into his eyes again.
“Me too,” I admit.
“But you like the other stuff too?”
He’s holding my face, so I can’t look away. I feel my cheeks burning.
“Yes,” I admit. “I do.”
He turns his face to look up at the ceiling, considering this.
“Good,” he says eventually.
My hand is still on his groin, and the growing hardness is unmistakable. I flex my fingers gently, and he moans.
Then he rolls over and takes me in a deep kiss.
“I’ll have to ration myself,” he murmurs, smiling at me.
“Really?” I raise my eyebrows. “What rationing did you have in mind?”
“Bedtime in two hours, no arguments,” he says.
“And what if I decide we should stay up later?”
James fixes me with a rakish grin. “Are you suggesting disobedience, Isabella?”
“Then perhaps you should be a little more careful.”
“Why is that?”
“Because I still have the riding crop.”
James kisses my sleeping face awake whilst it’s still dark. And I blink my eyes open in confusion.
“Is it time to get up?”
“Shhh. No. I have to be on set now. You take a few more hours in bed.”
I squint at him groggily.
“You’re going now?”
James kisses my face again. “Yes. I just couldn’t resist kissing you goodbye.”
He taps a clock by the bed. “I’ve set your alarm. Cast are due on set at 6am. There’ll be a bus waiting to take you, outside the hotel.”
“The shoot starts too early for breakfast in the hotel,” he adds, “but I’ve arranged food to be on location when you all arrive.”
He strokes my hair and kisses me one last lingering time before straightening up.
“I love you,” he whispers. And before I have the chance to respond, he’s gone.
A few hours later, the alarm blares, and I stagger sleep-drunk around the room. I manage to clumsily stab on the light, shower, and make it back to my own room for a change of clothes.
Whoa. This is early.
The clock says it’s barely 6am. I’m not a late sleeper, but even for me this is early. Sounds like the rumours of James being a slave driver might just be true.
I make it down outside the hotel where the bus is waiting, and to my delight, see that Lorna and Callum are already here. Though Natalie is nowhere to be seen.
Lorna is distinctly hung-over. And the lines around Callum’s eyes suggest that the early start doesn’t agree with him either. So we sit in virtual silence as the bus ferries us to the location.
We disembark into a huge Spanish style square lined with historic buildings, which has been cordoned off to the public.
And once I see the location, I start to feel excited rather than sleepy.
I can’t believe they’ve done all this in only one day.
It looks like a real film location.
Three huge trailers have been stationed inside, presumably for the needs of the cast and crew. And the whole square is milling with countless people. Camera men are rolling their equipment into position, and set handlers are busying themselves.
As promised, there’s a breakfast area set up, and the smell of fresh coffee wafts over the square. A line of crew members are being served breakfast from a large catering van.
“Coffee,” says Callum in relief, nodding towards the van. “Now,” he adds with feeling. Lorna and I follow behind as he makes a beeline for the van.
Just the smell of coffee seems to have transformed Callum, and he’s already brightened considerably.
As we wait in line, I’m once again struck by his humility. Several crew offer Callum the chance to go in front, but he declines with a disarming smile.
“How are my two favourite actresses this morning?” asks Callum with his usual degree of exaggerated charm.
“Good,” I reply. “Where’s Will this morning?”
“He opted for a workout, since he doesn’t really need to be on set,” says Callum. “Late night?” he adds, catching a glimpse of Lorna’s pained expression.
“Uggh,” says Lorna, moving her hand to clutch her head. “Hung-over.”
I shoot her a dark look, and she rolls her eyes.
“What?” she protests. “I’m out in a new town. Give me a break.”
Callum grins wider.
The hangover, at least, seems to have cleared Lorna’s star-struck fascination with him. She’s treating like any other ordinary guy.
“Can you get me some water?” she begs as Callum approaches the head of the queue.
“Of course.” Callum inclines his head in a stiff nod. “Anything for you gorgeous women. Isabella?”
“Um. Just a croissant, thanks.”
“No coffee?” Callum sounds shocked.
“Ok. Sure.” It’s occurring to me I do probably need one. “Latte, thanks.”
Callum steps ahead of us to take a selection of drinks and pastries from the van.
“Hey listen,” I say to Lorna, “I’m sorry, about disapproving of you and Ben. It’s not that I don’t think a guy would like you. You do know that, right?”
“Don’t worry about it,” she says. “I’m sorry for saying that. I know that’s not what you were implying. I was just being dramatic.”
She gives an adorable little smile. “You’re probably right to be disapproving,” she admits. “But just give me space to make my own mistakes, ok?”
“Ok.” I smile at her.
Lorna clutches her head again.
“Anyway,” she says, “I’m not sure I can spend too much time with Ben in Barcelona. I feel like shit. This drinking and working thing. It’s not good.”
Callum turns to us. He has gathered up an armful of coffees, drinks and pastries.
“Come on,” he says, “let’s sit on that fountain.” He nods with his head towards a large fountain in the centre of the plaza.
“It’s probably the only time we’ll sit down today,” adds Callum.
“Seriously?” Lorna looks even greener as we make towards the fountain.
“Oh yes,” says Callum. “Filming is a long day. You can wrap at nine, ten, midnight. It depends on whether the director gets what he wants.”
Memories are coming back of Berkeley as a director who pushes actors to the brink.
“And James will probably work us late?” I ask.
Callum nods. “From what I’ve heard,” he says. “And I’ve never started quite this early. It will be interesting to see if Natalie can stick to the schedule.”
We seat ourselves on the fountain, and Lorna is looking distinctly nauseous.
“Here,” says Callum. “I got you a Coke. World’s best hangover cure.”
“Thanks,” says Lorna, taking the bottle and opening it with a hiss. She takes a deep chug. “Huh,” she says, “that’s good.”
She stares up at the morning sky, as if hoping her head pain will magically dispel.
“I think this will be the first and last time you end up hung-over on set,” says Callum. “Take it from me, it’s a long day.”
I gaze out over to where the crew are setting up.
James explained that he’d brought the least possible staff. But it still looks like a lot of people to me.
I can make out James in the thick of it, pointing out where camera men should set up and directing other crew members to their stations.
I find myself staring in awe at him as he tirelessly directs crew members who are still blinking away sleep.
It’s all I can do to sit here and drink coffee. I don’t know how he has the energy.
“Wardrobe, hair and make-up,” he bellows suddenly, his voice echoing around the large square. “Cast into wardrobe please!”
Lorna looks at us in confusion. “Does that include me?”
“There’s a list,” says Callum. “It’s pasted up by the big trailer. Come on,” he adds, clutching his giant sized coffee.
We make it to the list to see that Lorna is scheduled as a fellow diner in a cafe scene.
“You’re due over there,” says Callum, pointing. “Isabella, you and I are over here. Come on darlings. It’s time to get the catwalk look.”
He says this last word with a comic toss of his head, and both Lorna and I laugh.
“Ok,” says Lorna, “I’m going over there. I might not live through today, but if I do, I’ll see you later.”
“Small sips of Coke,” advises Callum sagely.
Lorna gives us one last hung-over grunt, and then follows the milling crowd of other extras.
Callum leads me towards a selection of rolling hangers, and I’m pleased he’s here to guide me. I know plenty about wardrobe from drama college. But I’ve never seen how it works on a real location shoot.
I’m excited though. In theatre, there’s a wardrobe mistress who designs the costumes. But in films, the actors usually get a whole array of carefully chosen clothes.
I’m dying to see what my character will be wearing.
“There’s no one on wardrobe today,” Callum explains, “because of the reduced crew.”
He doesn’t mention the reason for this, and I feel a usual pang of unease.
“But wardrobe have sent a selection of location clothes,” Callum adds, “and you’ll get to meet the designer back in England. He’s a riot. You’ll love him.”
“There’s a designer?”
I’ve never heard of this. Usually wardrobe is run by a regular person who’s worked their way up from fixing costumes.
Hiring an actual designer is an unheard of luxury.
“Yep,” Callum nods. “That’s Berkeley for you. He employs a designer to make a collection for each of the characters. They’re given all your character notes, everything.”
“Wow.” I’m even more excited now. What will a designer have made of Grace’s character?
We’re by the rolling hanger racks now, and I make out one with Callum’s name scrawled on a piece of card and stapled to the end of the rack. “There’s you,” I say, pointing to a selection of jeans, T-shirts and stylish sneakers. Clearly Callum’s reporter look is to be casual.
I spot my name and approach my hanger.
“I can choose what I like?” I ask Callum, letting my hand trail over the clothes.
“Yep. Whatever you think will work for the scene.”
We sure do have a lot of agency on this set, I think, looking carefully at the clothes. Better make sure I choose right.
Based on what I can see, the costume designer has a pretty similar idea of Grace to me. He’s styled Grace in fashionable work wear with a formal edge.
I pick out a deep blue pencil skirt and matching top with a peplum hem.
Perfect. This is exactly the sort of thing Grace would wear in Spain.
In the movie, Grace is a little controlling, and insular. I think she’d be the kind of girl who wore semi-formal wear in a European café. Even when everyone around her was in tight tees and flip-flops.
I smile. I’d never realised how much fun it could be to add definition to a character in this way.
“Ready?” asks Callum. He has already slung his outfit over his arm and is holding a pair of sneakers.
“Give me a sec.”
I duck down and select a pair of polka dot flats in a shade to match. “Ready.”
“Ok,” says Callum. “We change in those cabins.”
I change as quickly as possible. The small cabin has a mirror, and I take a quick glance at myself. The blue pencil skirt is tight, and to my dismay, the outline of my panties is on clear view.
I chew my lip, thinking of a solution. They’re hardly likely to have a spare G-string in the wardrobe department.
There’s nothing else for it. I’ll have to dispense with my panties altogether. The skirt is knee-length in any case. There’s not really a risk of exposure.
I tug my panties off carefully and fold them discretely amongst my other civilian clothes.
I can’t help but smile to myself as I head out to meet Callum. Wearing no panties is like having my own sexy secret. I feel slightly daring as I walk back out into the main square.
Once again, Callum knows the drill concerning hair and make-up. Apparently, one of the trailers will be where we get made-up.
“Don’t you have your own hair and make-up people?” I ask Callum as we make towards the trailer.
From what I’d heard, all Hollywood A-list had their own staff.
“Sometimes,” says Callum. “But it’s not such a big deal. If I’m on location and it’s difficult to arrange, I just go with the on-set staff. Besides,” he adds, “I’m not in too many scenes today, so it doesn’t matter if I’m not looking devastating.”
I laugh, and Callum opens the trailer door.
He gestures that I should step inside first, and I’m surprised at how much room there is. It really is massive.
One wall is all mirrors, with a table chock-full of make-up and hair products. There are palettes of eye-shadow, foundation, and blush, long bottles of hairspray, and countless other products.
None of them are brands I recognise, and they all have an industrial look to them. As though they were bought in large quantities.
There are huge lights above the mirrors, and it’s so bright inside, it’s almost dazzling. The lights throw out a lot of heat too. And there’s a waxy smell in the air, as though products are already melting in here.
There are two director-style chairs in front of the mirrors. And to my mixed embarrassment and delight, there’s a chair with a big gold star and my name on the back. Another bears Callum’s name.
A girl around my age stands behind my chair. She has a perfect hot pink bob and impeccable goth-style make-up, with lipstick to match her hair.
“Ms Green?” she asks.
“Hi,” I say shyly, extending my hand. I’m wondering how she could apply her pale foundation so perfectly. She looks like a box-fresh doll.
The girl shakes my hand warmly, and the long lashes of her eyes blink. “I’m Kristy.” She has a neutral English accent, which I can’t place geographically.
“Call me, Issy,” I say. “Please.”
I look towards my chair. “I didn’t know they did that in real life,” I say, pointing to the star.
Callum is behind me now.
“Absolutely they do,” he says. “You know what actors are like. We have to be told we’re big stars at every opportunity.”
He stands beside me.
“Kristy?” he says, struggling for the name for a moment.
Kristy’s hot pink lips break into a wide grin. “I can’t believe you remembered,” she said. “It’s been years since I saw you last.”
“I never forget a pretty face,” says Callum. “But you fooled me. Your hair was blonde the last time.”
“Yeah,” says Kristy, grinning and tugging a strand of hair. “I like to keep things fresh.”
“So, you’ll be doing our make-up?” asks Callum.
“Yes,” says Kristy. “Mr Berkeley said you wouldn’t mind sharing me with Ms Green.”
“Absolutely not,” says Callum. “In fact, I can do a lot of my own. Free you up to make Isabella even more gorgeous.”
“Really?” Kristy sounds relieved. “Honesty. That would be great. I’m on a tight schedule. I was up arranging things for Ms Ennis’s make-up artist, and I’m running behind.”
“No problem,” says Callum, and he seats himself in the chair next to mine. “Isabella, you are in good hands,” he adds. “Kristy is one of the very best. Mr Berkeley must have pulled some dark deals to win her over.”
Callum begins plucking bottles and lotions from the array in front of him.
“You can do your own mark-up?” I say curiously.
“More or less,” says Callum, frowning in concentration as he selects products. “I started on the stage. Worked my way up through a lot of lowly roles. You do your own everything when you’re at the bottom.”
“Oh.” I take a seat, thinking about this.
I guess Natalie started at the top, and more or less stayed there. No wonder she and Callum are often at odds. I can’t imagine Natalie offering to do her own make-up.
The door thuds open again, and another girl launches through the trailer door, brandishing a hair dryer. She has shoulder length hair, strobed with perfect blonde highlights. And her generous curves are crammed into a floral print dress, with a large amount of cleavage spilling over at the top.
She has an unusual kind of face. Not pretty exactly, but kind of cute, in an owlish way, with large brown eyes and a chin which tapers away to nothing.
Then again, with Kristy’s perfect doll features, she’s got a tough compare.
“Ms Green?” she asks. I nod, and she gives me a tight nod in reply. “We’ve got one of the female cast then,” she says, sounding annoyed. “No one can find Ms Ennis. And we’ve only got an hour to get them all on set.”
She’s speaking only to Kristy now, as though Callum and I weren’t even here.
Then, without another word, she takes two strides towards me, grabs my head, and begins working product through my hair.
I try not to flinch in shock as she manipulates my head this way and that.
Is this normal? Maybe she’s done this for so long, she’s used to treating people like pieces of meat. I can’t say I like it much.
“Hi,” I say cautiously as she manhandles my head. “I’m Issy.”
“Hello,” she says distractedly, “I’m Scarlett.” She reaches forward and shakes my hand whilst I’m still seated, without breaking from her hairdressing.
“After Scarlett O’Hara,” she adds, “so no jokes, ‘cause I’ve heard them all.” Her accent is East-End London, which makes the demand sound even harsher.
I catch Callum’s eye, and he raises his eyebrows at me.
“Sorry for the rush,” Scarlett says, seeming to mellow a little, now she’s pulling around fistfuls of my hair. “We’re all very behind today.”
She lifts a few strands and sprays what feels to be an entire bottle of product along them. Then she fires up the hairdryer and begins enthusiastically blow-drying.
As Scarlett works, Kristy steps forward with a clutch of make-up brushes in her hand.
“Mr Berkeley said daytime make-up,” she muses. “And Issy, you have such huge eyes, I think we’ll have to tone them down a little, ok?”
“Ok.” I don’t know what else to say.
Kristy picks up a pot of nameless goo from the table in front of us and paints a thick daubing of it on my mouth.
“That’s to stop your lips drying out in the heat of the trailer,” she explains. “I’ll put on lipstick last.”
As Scarlett pulls my hair around, Kristy’s face zooms in front of mine, taking in different angles. Then she pulls back, assessing me in the mirror.
“Pale, with golden tones,” she mutters, popping open a huge black box to reveal a huge palette of skin tones.
Kristy spends a few minutes blending a few of the shades on her hand, and then tries a stroke of colour on my jawline.
“Perfect,” she says with satisfaction as the colour vanishes into my face.
She takes a large brush and begins painting a liquid carefully onto my face.
“This is fixer,” she explains. “To stop your make-up sliding off in the sun and the lights.”
Then she takes a concealer pen and paints under my eyes a bright white.
“Don’t worry,” she says, “I’ll blend it in.”
When she’s finished, she takes another brush and paints on a thick layer of foundation. It’s the texture of a mousse, and I can almost feel my pores clogging.
As Kristy adds layer upon layer of make-up, I let my mind wander. And I find myself thinking about Ben Gracey.
It still seems like too much of a coincidence to me that he showed up in Barcelona the same time as the reporter. Maybe James is giving him too much credit.
If only I knew the story behind Ben and Camilla, I could make a better assessment.
I think about this. I can’t really call Camilla and ask her. It’s too personal to talk about on the phone. I’ll have to wait until I see her in person, so I can gauge from her face whether she minds telling me.
At least that shouldn’t be too long.
Unless another leak happens.
“Ok, stage one is done.” The sound of Kristy’s voice jolts me out of my reverie. And my eyes focus on the face in the mirror before me.
Wow. That’s unbelievable.
Kristy has transformed my face from human to mannequin.
I blink at the effect. The foundation is so perfect, I hardly look real.
I’m not sure I like it at all.
“Your skin was quick to do,” Kristy is saying. “I get actresses with so many spots, they’re in make-up for hours.” She seems pleased.
“Callum, when I’ve finished with Issy, I’ll have some time to touch you up,” she announces. Callum, who’s leaning close to the mirror, dabbing a brush under his eyes, nods in agreement.
Finished? Surely she can’t mean to add any more make-up?
“The last movie I was on,” explains Kristy, “the actress had such bad acne, we couldn’t conceal the bumps in make-up. The director had to CGI every close-up of her face after filming. It cost thousands.”
I smile in response. Scarlett is still tugging my hair this way and that, and it’s hard to make conversation.
It turns out that Kristy wasn’t even halfway done. After making my skin look airbrushed, she turns her attention to sculpting my nose and cheeks with blush and bronzer, and finally shaping my eyes.
She decides against false eyelashes, and makes several re-applications of eye-shadow.
“Such unusual eyes,” she murmurs, working with her brush. “They look like a really soft blue, but they’re actually a kind of grey, aren’t they?”
“I guess so,” I reply, not sure whether an answer is needed. There’s a long silence as she studies her eye colours, and finally decides on a blend.
“Well,” Kristy announces as she finishes my eyes and begins outlining my lips in a soft pink. “You certainly have a face for screen, Isabella. My biggest problem has been keeping you natural. Don’t worry though,” she adds, “I’ve mastered it now. We’ll be faster tomorrow.”
I blink at my reflection. Whoa! That is a lot of make-up.
“You’re sure it looks…natural?” I manage, staring at the mirror. I don’t usually wear much make-up, and it feels as though it’s been laid on with a trowel.
“When the lights get on you, they show up every little imperfection,” she says. “This will blend right in, I promise. You’ll look exceptionally beautiful,” she murmurs, making a final pleased assessment of my face. “I’ve never met anyone with grey eyes and black hair before. It’s a really stunning combination.”
For a brief moment, I’m pleased how the layers of make-up hide my blush.
“Thanks,” I say, not really knowing what to say.
Certainly my face in the mirror does look beautiful. But to me, it’s in a slightly eerie way. Surely people shouldn’t look this perfect?
“It will look totally natural on camera,” reassures Kristy, sensing my uncertainty.
I turn my head, hoping she’s right. Certainly, I can’t go out in public with this much make-up on.
“You really do look beautiful,” says Callum from his seat next to me. “You’ll have to get used to it.”
I roll my eyes at him. But I don’t mind the compliment so much, coming from Callum.
Scarlett is giving my hair a final blast of hairspray. From what I can see, my long dark curling hair doesn’t look a great deal different in shape. But it now has a high shine, and each curl is more defined.
I move a tentative hand to my hair and find it’s set in place, like a helmet.
“Don’t touch it,” snaps Scarlett.
“It looks lovely,” I smile, aiming to appease her. She gives a half grunt of acknowledgment.
“Just be careful around open flames,” she says, “those products can react.”
I give Callum and alarmed glance, but he shakes his head reassuringly.
“She’s just teasing,” he says.
I glance up at Scarlett’s face, but she’s giving nothing away. I make a mental note to get a smile out of her by the end of the film. She sure doesn’t seem like she enjoys her work.
As I emerge fully made-up into the early morning sun, it feels as though an age has passed.
Hair and make-up is tiring. It’s not even 9am, but it feels as though it should be much later.
Callum is now having his hair mauled about by Scarlett, so I’ve got a few minutes to myself. I take a breath, trying to dispel any thoughts of tiredness.
Instead, I let my eyes sweep around the location scene.
The milling people have a greater urgency about them now. And I see that several large cameras have now been wheeled into place.
So that’s where I’ll be acting.
My gaze has settled on a part of the square which has been constructed especially for this movie. The crew have built a fake café front, complete with glass windows and outdoor seating.
What an amazing transformation.
The set is ringed by cameras and sound equipment, and looks impressively real from where I am.
Then, in the middle distance, I see a tiny figure.
My heart sinks. If she’s only arriving now, surely this will hold things up? It took a whole hour to get my hair and make-up fixed. I’m imagining, with Natalie’s diva expectations, it could be longer for her.
She sees me and waves, adjusting her direction to track towards me.
I wave back.
“Hey,” she calls as she nears me across the square. She narrows her eyes at me as she approaches. “Who did your make-up?”
Her voice sounds casual, but I can tell she’s not pleased.
Here we go. Back to bitchy Natalie again. I knew yesterday couldn’t last.
“Uh huh.” Natalie nods slowly, as though assessing. “Well, you’ve certainly got the screen look,” she says finally.
Now she’s close to me, I feel myself enveloped in a waft of her strong perfume. To my surprise, I notice her hair and make-up are flawless.
“You went to hair and make-up already?” I ask.
“Oh, yeah.” Natalie pinches a strand of her copper coloured hair distractedly. She lowers her voice. “Got my own staff, you know. And I hate being made up in those hotboxes.” She gestures towards the trailers. “I just melt.”
“It looks great,” I smile, aiming to bring her back into a congenial mood. I mean it too. She’s really pretty as a regular person. But with screen make-up, she looks incredible.
“Thanks,” Natalie smiles back. “Usually, I don’t mind using the set staff,” she confides. “So long as they come to my room, of course. If I come on set to be made-up, then all the crew and extras come by to stare at me.”
She shudders dramatically.
“But I checked in advance, and they’ve got that Scarlett girl on the hair,” continues Natalie.
She looks from left to right, as if filling me in on a secret. “And I refuse to have my hair pulled around by that witch,” she says. “We do not get along.”
I’m silently thinking that there is a long list of people Natalie does not get along with. But I can see some of her point. Scarlett was certainly heavy-handed.
In any case, I’m filled with relief that Natalie is ready. I was anxious we’d all have to wait for her to go through hair and make-up. And I can’t imagine James would have reacted well.
Natalie gives a large yawn, showing perfect white teeth.
“I can’t stand getting up so early,” she complains. “It’s not fair. Not all of us are morning people.”
I sense that the early start has driven away any good feeling which might have been fostered in Natalie last night.
“Did you see your wardrobe yet?” I ask.
Natalie is dressed in frayed white-denim hot pants, a low-cut gold top, and yet another pair of wedge sandals.
“Oh, I do my own,” she says airily. “I’ve done that since my third movie. I have very distinct colouring,” she adds, “and you just can’t trust wardrobe to get that right. I’ve ended up looking real washed out, because they’ve made dumb decisions.”
She rolls her eyes.
“I thought this would be just the thing for ‘Lisa in Spain’,” she adds, referring to her character’s name. “Don’t you think?”
I nod uncertainly. To my eyes, she’s dressed in her own regular style. But perhaps that’s the point. Maybe mega stars like Natalie, get cast to play themselves.
“Did you get anything to eat?” asks Natalie distractedly, staring across the square.
“Uh huh. A croissant.”
“Was that all there was?” she asks.
“I think so.” I cast my mind back to the catering van. “I think there was some omelette thing.”
Natalie rolls her eyes. “I told Carol,” she says, “to ship in the gluten free muffins they have in Wholefoods.”
She pats her tiny stomach. “If I have any of that pastry stuff, I will just bloat out like a balloon,” she sighs, shaking her head. “And what are they supposed to do, if I don’t fit any of my outfits?”
Her green eyes are fixed on mine, demanding my agreement. I nod uncertainly.
“Listen,” says Natalie, “I’m going to be a little late on set. Because, you know, there’s just some things I have to get sorted before we start.”
Her eyes sweep the square and land on a figure by the catering van.
It’s her assistant Carol, and best I can see, she’s brandishing a food box.
“Looks like she may be bringing your muffins,” I suggest.
“Uggh. Maybe,” says Natalie. “If only I could be sure of that.”
She whips out her phone and punches in a number.
“I’d better call her,” she mutters, pressing to dial, even though Carol is less than a hundred metres away.
I see Carol jump and fumble to take out her phone.
Natalie begins issuing urgent instructions into the handset.
“Everyone on set!” It’s James’s voice, and I swing around to see he’s assembled everything for the first scene.
Nervously, I make my way towards him.
I am suddenly feeling insanely out of my depth. I have never been on a location scene before. I have no idea where I should be standing, or what’s expected of me.
And worse, there are all these people I don’t know, wielding cameras, and arranging things.
Just get through today, Issy, I counsel myself. You’ll figure it out.
Callum arrives by my side and takes my arm.
“Nervous?” he asks, understanding instantly.
I nod, too anxious to even get the words out, but pleased beyond measure to have him at my side.
“You should be,” Callum says. “Every one of those cameramen are flesh-hungry cannibals.”
I laugh, despite myself.
“My first day on set,” he says, “I was so nervous, I had a stomach ache all day.”
He gives a nod to reassure me he’s telling the truth.
It’s hard to imagine Callum as a nervous young actor.
“How long did it take you not to be nervous?” I venture, feeling slightly better.
“I never stopped being nervous,” says Callum. “Every time I go on set, I’m terrified. It’s when you’re calm, that’s when you need to worry.”
He gives my arm a squeeze. “Frightened is the best way to be,” he says. “It means you care about your acting.”
I could hug Callum right now. He’s said exactly the right thing to make me feel better.
Well, almost. I feel the nerves start to grow again as we enter the shouting maelstrom of crew who run past us, as though we weren’t there.
“You’ll get used to it,” says Callum as they rush by. “We’re just puppets to them. We only start up when the cameras roll.”
I blink in surprise. It’s a strange remark, but he’s right. That’s what it feels like. It’s like we’re ghosts.
Then James steps towards us, and I feel my world light up.
“Hello,” I say, trying desperately to keep the violent smile from splitting my face.
My thoughts suddenly sweep to my absence of panties under the pencil skirt. I’d forgotten, in all the fear and excitement.
The memory brings a little sexy thrill with it.
“Hello, both of you,” says James. “We’re almost ready to start.”
Something about the atmosphere of the set and the arrangement of things - it seems to have brought James to life. I have never seen him look this energised, or excited.
He loves this.
Suddenly, I can’t wait to be part of his work.
“I’m looking forward to it,” I say, and I mean it.
James reaches out an arm to help guide me out of the path of a passing cameraman. And as he does so, his hand sweeps across my behind.
I feel him freeze momentarily, before continuing the casual movement of his arm.
Does he know I’m not wearing panties?
The thought makes me feel wicked and sexy all at once. I can’t say for sure that James knows what’s underneath my skirt. But the sudden tight expression on his face suggests he might.
Maybe I’ll leave them off, I think, and surprise him later.
The thought of being alone with him later is almost too much to bear. But I’m excited too, to be acting.
“It’s just scenes with you and Callum and Natalie today,” James explains. And I realise the subtext of what he’s saying: “You don’t have to act with me yet.”
I feel relieved, but also a little disappointed.
I’d much rather find my feet on set before trying to act with James. But a memory of our intense first meeting keeps spiking up. The chemistry between us when we acted was incredible. I can’t wait to experience it again.
James strides away, and I’m left with Callum, feeling a little as though the sun has gone in.
“You went to drama school, right?” Callum says.
“Then you know almost everything already,” Callum reassures me. He must have caught a glimpse of my terrified expression returning as James slid away.
“I know all the words for everything,” I admit, “and what everyone does. But it feels so different actually being here. It’s like looking at a picture of some exotic country,” I add, “and then actually being there, in the din and chaos.”
Callum smiles at the metaphor.
“Don’t worry,” he says, patting my shoulder. “See those crosses there?”
He points to two separate spots on the floor.
“That’s you, that’s me,” he says. “When they yell, ‘Places!’, all you gotta do is be in that spot. After that, just deliver your lines. And we all know you can do that,” he adds with an impish smile.
I smile back, trying to stem my heart from racing.
“In any case, you don’t need to worry, for… Ooo… at least an hour.” Callum checks his watch exaggeratedly.
“Why’s that?” I turn to him in confusion. “I thought James had just told us to be on set.”
“Ah yes,” says Callum, tapping his nose. “Us lowly professionals have to be here. But you’re forgetting, there’s also Hollywood royalty in residence.”
He gives me a knowing glance. “We’ll all have to wait for Natalie Ennis.”
In the end, we don’t have to wait anything like an hour. But Natalie still shows up twenty minutes late, with an expression like a sulky schoolgirl. Judging from her posture and attitude, James had some serious words with her.
Carol is trailing behind her, like a puppy. Doubtless, she’s trying to second-guess what Natalie’s next demands might be.
“Ok,” shouts James, his deep voice booming across the square. “We’re ready to get going.”
I let my eyes sweep over the mocked-up café front, which the set handlers have built.
I can’t help but admire their handiwork.
Until this morning, this part of the square was an ordinary-looking pharmacy. But they’ve built it out to look like a charming European café, complete with outdoor seating and huge glass frontages.
In the setting of the wider square, it looks totally natural, and charmingly Spanish.
I’m willing to bet, if we all left the set right now, more than one tourist would try and order coffee here.
Although up close, you can see the glass is actually plastic, apart from one large pane, which is sugar-glass.
Part of the scene is a comedy moment, in which Callum comes crashing through the café window, so this will be where he falls.
“Extras, onto set please,” calls James.
Even the sound of his voice makes me melt. How am I going to act with him without giving away how I feel?
At least the script is on my side. My character is supposed to fall in love with his, after all.
A small group of extras troop onto the set. Lorna is one of them, and she turns to give me an excited grin. She looks gorgeous, as usual.
Her flawless model skin and even features have been enhanced with screen make-up, and she’s been dressed in jeans and a skinny tee.
I grin back, and she takes her seat at one of the outdoor tables. A man who I recognise as David, the props handler, swoops in and begins setting out cups and coffee pots.
Lorna is given a tall glass of orange juice and a croissant on a plate.
I wonder how her hangover is treating her. Judging by her expression as the food and drinks are set in front of her, she’s not feeling great.
“Cast. Places!” James voice comes loud again.
I freeze for a moment, and Callum helpfully shoves me towards my starting point.
I stand hesitantly on the taped cross, trying to work out if I need to be exactly on top of it or slightly to the side.
I look over to Callum to see he’s silently laughing at me good-naturedly, and I give him a self-pitying grin and a shrug.
He points to the middle of the cross below his feet, and I move to stand in the centre of mine.
Natalie walks over to her seat in the outdoor café and sits.
The cameras swing and adjust to focus on her table.
“Does anyone need a last minute look at scripts?” asks James. He’s moved closer to the set now.
I’ve learned this scene so thoroughly, I could recite it in my sleep. So I shake my head. Callum also waves away the need for a script, but Natalie puts her hand up.
“Just give me two seconds, ok?” she calls. “I just want to double check something about where I’m sitting.”
We wait a few beats, until Natalie has satisfied herself as to the logistics. She nods, and a crew member swoops in to relieve her of the script.
“Ok,” says James. “Extras, just act natural. Chat. Drink coffee. Everyone ready?”
He makes a glance around the set.
And then it’s time for the famous words.
“Lights!” calls James.
A blaze of subtle lighting beams on, throwing Natalie’s features into sharp relief.
None of the cameras move, but I’m guessing the staff behind them are zooming in.
A crew member snaps a movie clapper in front of the camera, and we’re rolling.
Natalie switches instantly from poised to natural.
She stares into the middle distance and takes a sip from her coffee cup.
This is my cue, and I take a deep breath, trying to force my body into calmness.
I step away from my spot and into the range of the cameras.
Grace is supposed to be approaching Natalie for some last minute information. So I let myself swim into what her state of mind might be.
I stride purposely towards Natalie’s character, and I arrive at her table, setting my face to flustered.
“Lisa,” I say in a harried tone, “did you get the documents yet?”
Natalie looks up from her coffee and opens her mouth to reply. But suddenly, James’s voice booms out, cutting her off.
I turn in bemusement.
“Ok,” James strides onto set. “Just a few adjustments to make sure we’re getting things right for this first scene.”
Wow. He really is a perfectionist. Is it going to be like this every second of each take?
He moves towards me and moves a portion of hair away from my face.
The contact makes my skin tingle.
“We’re filming from this side, ok?” he says. “So we need to see your expression. Your hair is covering part of it.” He looks around.
“Scarlett?” he calls. “Can we get you on this?”
In a second, Scarlett is standing by my side.
“We need this side of the face open,” he explains. “I’d like the camera to catch her frowning.”
Scarlett dives straight in and begins adjusting my hair with her usual lack of respect for my personal space. Whilst she’s spraying and fixing, James takes a few steps over to Natalie.
“Can we try it with Lisa looking more shocked to see Grace?” he suggests. “Let’s try for some easy-going surprise.”
“Sure,” Natalie nods.
Scarlett releases my head and takes a step back. James turns to assess.
“Great, thanks Scarlett. You ok to go, Issy?”
I nod, but I’m still feeling knocked for six by the sudden cut.
Is this normal? If this is a regular occurrence, it’s going to be a long day.
“Ok.” James takes a sweep around the set. “I think we’re good.”
He turns to Scarlett, who gives him a tight nod, and steps away from my adjusted hair.
“Places, please. Plaza scene, take two. Action!”
Everything’s happened so quickly, that I’ve barely had time to get back to my place. I force my concentration back into character and stride towards Natalie for the second time.
This time, we manage to get our dialogue out and get to the end of the short scene.
“Good,” announces James, after calling cut. “Excellent. Go again please.”
And off we go again.
We shoot another twelve takes of the same scene, and James moves around extras, makes suggestions on how to deliver our lines, and brings in David to make prop adjustments.
It’s hard work, but I’m enjoying it. Each scene is another chance to deliver my best. And the tiny alterations in our set, and lines, make each take surprisingly different.
Natalie seems to be thriving, and for once she’s behaving almost professionally.
She takes direction perfectly, without the slightest complaint. Although she does start to huff and roll her eyes once the repeat takes start to stack up.
I’m getting into character, so I can only hope I’m delivering my lines the way James wants.
“Ok, take a quick break,” announces James. “It’s five past eleven. Back at a quarter past please. The catering van is open.”
Phew. This is some tough schedule. I can see why James is nicknamed ‘the hammer’.
“Isabella,” says James, “this next scene involves some stunts. You’ve not worked with that before. I’m going to brief you during the break.”
“Ok.” I look around to see the rest of the cast and crew and melting away, rapidly making for the catering van.
Lorna catches my eye and winks before following the other extras, and I poke my tongue out at her.
“Come with me.” James strides ahead of me, making for the edge of the café set. He steps neatly behind the scenery, then reaches out to help me.
We’re going behind the set?
“Be careful over these cables,” he murmurs, helping me over heavy lighting cables.
And then I’m out of view, and alone with James.
Behind the café frontage is completely different. It feels as though we’ve stepped into a theatre, with the huge wooden set panels all around.
Now there’s just the two of us, the atmosphere changes.
“I’m very pleased with you today, Isabella,” says James. “Your acting is every bit as good as I’d hoped.”
“Thanks,” I reply, not quite knowing what to say.
“But there is one matter, which we need to talk about.”
My pulse quicken.
James’s voice drops low. “You’re not wearing panties.”
I feel my heart begin to pound.
It’s not a question, but I answer anyway.
“No,” I admit.
“Then surely, you must have known there would be consequences to your actions?”
I swallow, uncertain of how to reply.
“You know, you look irresistible to me on camera,” he growls. “Do you have any idea what it was like to watch you for the last two hours, knowing what was underneath that skirt?”
I shake my head.
“Turn around,” he says quietly. “I’m going to take you here, and it’s going to be fast and rough.”
I open my mouth to reply, but before I can get an answer out, he spins me around so his hips are pressing into my behind.
The bare wooden panel of the nearest set wall is inches from my face.
“Put your hands against the wall,” he commands, grabbing my wrists and setting my palms flat on the wood.
I’m speechless with sudden lust.
This is so hot.
James’s hands cup my breasts, and he grinds his hips into my behind.
“Don’t make a sound.” He slides one hand to begin hitching up my pencil skirt. “Or I’ll spank you later.”
I suppress a moan of desire, feeling hot waves of passion cascading though me.
James pinches a nipple hard between his thumb and forefinger, and I bite my lip to stop myself crying out.
“You’ll need to think about your wardrobe more carefully in future,” he mutters, moving both hands to pull the skirt above where I’m already wet for him.
“Now, open your legs.”
I obey, moving my legs a little apart, and suddenly I feel his fingers plunge deep inside of me.
Ahhhh. He’s so rough, it’s almost painful. But the sudden thrust of his fingers shock me with instant desire.
He has two fingers inside of me, and I feel him work in a third, stretching me open.
“Don’t make a sound,” he reminds me as I feel a moan of pleasure rising up.
His fingers slide out. There’s a ripping of foil, and faster than I would have believed possible, I feel him, hard between my upper thighs.
Then I feel him thrust upwards, and he’s deep inside me.
“Mmmmm.” It takes every ounce of self-control not to shout out loud, but I still can’t help myself from making a noise.
“Shhh,” James whispers in my ear. He moves a hand to cover my mouth and puts his other hand against my stomach, pinning me towards him.
“I’m going to fuck you hard now,” he says, his voice low.
James’s tone is almost soothing, which makes it all the more shockingly hot when he begins to drive powerfully inside me.
His arm holds me tight against him as he slams my body with strong, relentless thrusts. I can feel the solid muscle of his thighs powering into me.
I stifle a moan against the palm of his hand, feeling my body taken utterly in the moment.
Then James’s arm slides down from my waist, and his fingers are working my clitoris. His other hand is still tight against my mouth.
I buck against him, caught between the two sensations. My body is trying to push back into him and press forwards towards his fingers at the same time.
“Easy, Issy,” whispers James. “I’ve told you not to make any noise.”
His hand keeps perfect contact the entire time, making fast, expert strokes.
I feel a fluttering sensation, like butterflies between my legs, and for a moment I freeze in the midst of the unfamiliar feeling.
Then, James pushes hard and deep into me, and there’s a sudden explosion, as though my entire body is combusting in hot, shuddering gasps.
“Shhhh,” whispers James as I fall utterly into the pleasure of it, moaning softly under his hand.
He thrusts into me again, creating another surge, and I feel myself collapsing into him, pulling him tighter into me.
I feel James’s hard body take on another level of rigidity, and then he’s moving hard and fast, coming inside of me.
“Oh Issy,” he whispers, sliding both hands to caress my breasts, “I wish more than anything I could take you somewhere now and do that to you all over again.”
I blink back at him as he gently pulls away and turns me around to face him.
He kisses my lips gently.
“I’m taking you on holiday soon,” he decides with a devilish smile. “Somewhere I can have you anytime I like.”
“Sounds nice.” I smile, still breathless from what we’ve just done.
“The others will be back soon,” says James. He leans forward and tugs my skirt back down into place.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get through the rest of the day,” he says, buttoning his trousers, “knowing that you’re not wearing panties.”
“You’re a professional,” I smile, “I’m sure you’ll be fine.”
James gives me a rueful smile. “I always thought I was extremely professional,” he says. “And then I met you.”
James and I have been standing on set for a few minutes when the crew and cast come swirling slowly back.
I step carefully away from James in a whirl of feelings. I’m loving the acting. But this is going to be hard. How can I act this scene, knowing what we just did behind the set?
“Crew, take your places please!” announces James. “Cast, come to me please. We need to run through this scene. Natalie!” he adds in a voice like thunder. “That means you too!”
Natalie had been talking intently with Carol. At the sound of her name, she jumps and looks guilty.
Something about the movement catches my attention, and my eyes sweep to Carol’s face. By the looks of her, James just interrupted a serious conversation.
Carol sees me watching, and she looks away. It’s exactly the gesture of someone who has something to hide.
What were they talking about?
“You can order your staff on your own time,” James is saying to Natalie. He sounds slightly sardonic, and it’s hard to tell if he’s really angry with her.
Natalie clearly can’t tell either, because she trots towards him with uncharacteristic speed, looking uncomfortable.
There’s no time to think further about what I just saw between Carol and Natalie.
Callum is already at James’s side, and I make sure to come last and hang slightly back. Partly to dampen any suspicion, and partly because I don’t trust myself near him.
“Come in closer, Issy,” says James patiently, and I try to keep my face neutral as I step nearer.
“Ok.” James is brandishing a script in his hand. “So we all know this next part. Callum has been inside the café, whilst Lisa and Grace were outside.”
“What we’ll get next is Callum crashing straight through this window,” continues James. He’s pointing to the slightly mistier, sugar-glass window.
“Callum’s happy to do his own stunts for this,” adds James, “so we can do it in one nice take.”
James stands to one side and puts a hand on Callum’s shoulder.
“Callum, you’ll come out here,” he points. “Fall, just how the stunt guys showed you. Left shoulder to the ground, curl into a ball, and roll. Ok?”
Callum nods. “Do you want me to turn my head a little,” he asks, “so we get a dusting of glass in my hair?”
“Yes, great idea.” James nods and looks pleased.
He turns to Natalie and me to check we’ve understood.
“He’ll fall around two feet away from you,” continues James. “We want it very light, very comedy. Lots of great shocked expressions from you girls.”
Natalie and I both nod.
“Wait,” says Natalie. “Would it be a good idea to dislodge some of our coffee cups and things? Spray us both with coffee?”
James pauses for a fraction of a second.
“Yes. I think that could work,” he agrees. “We’ll do a few reaction shots without the coffee spill, and then try it with.”
He smiles at Natalie.
I have a sudden wave of uncertainty. The acting part, I can do. But it looks as though actors can also contribute more than I realised.
I decide, slightly miserably, that I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to offer my opinion like Callum and Natalie.
Pull it together, Issy, I tell myself sternly. Concentrate on getting the acting right before you worry about being as good as the mega stars.
“David. Props please!” calls James, and in a moment, David is on set with us. He seems less shy of me this time around and gives me a warm smile.
James explains he wants coffee spray set up, and they discuss equipment and what level of soaking Natalie and I should receive.
“Ok,” says James, once the equipment is arranged. “Issy, I want Grace to be really shocked, horrified. Ok? Really ramp it up.”
“You’ve added a really nice character touch by dressing her semi-formal,” adds James. “So when we shoot the coffee spray, let’s see that in full comic effect. Her nice clothes are drenched. She’s disgusted.”
He turns to Natalie.
“Natalie, I want Lisa to be easy-going,” he says. “Laugh, roll your eyes. Lisa has seen the funny side. Grace hasn’t. Let’s really play that contrast. Ok?”
The rest of the day passes in a whirl. We shoot scene after scene, take after take. It’s exhausting, but it’s fun.
Lunch comes and goes with an incredible array of local food. But we barely have time to fill our stomachs before we’re back on set.
Towards early evening, a runner brings us all fresh coffee. And although I’m not a big coffee drinker, I take it gratefully. I’m beat.
For all the hard work though, I am enjoying this. And it feels as though Natalie, Callum and I are bonding.
Lorna and the other extras are only needed for the morning, so for the rest of the day, it’s just us working through our scenes.
When James finally calls an end to filming mid-evening, Callum and I file gratefully off set.
We change into our regular clothes, and I study my inch-thick layer of make-up.
I’ll need an entire bottle of make-up remover, I think, staring at my face. Maybe Natalie has something I can borrow.
I emerge from changing to see Callum.
“Where’s Natalie?” I ask, noticing she’s vanished.
“Probably she’s off to enjoy the Barcelona nightlife on her own terms,” says Callum. He gives a large yawn. “Suits me,” he adds. “I’ve been waiting all day to call my wife. I have a date with my cell phone and a club sandwich on room service.”
He gives me a cute little smile. “How about you, Issy? You got any hot dates planned?”
I smile back. “I don’t know,” I admit. “I think Lorna may have other plans, so I guess I’ll just wait and see.”
James has vanished into some production trailer, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to go after him.
Callum winks at me, knowing full well I’m waiting on James.
“I’m sure there’s something very exciting awaiting you,” he says.
As if on cue, my phone beeps, and I take it out to see the message icon and James’s name. My heart does a little flip as I read the message.
I have to finish up here. Wait for me at the hotel. Won’t be long. xxx
James’s text etiquette is improving marginally, I guess. But it’s still on the curt side.
I shrug at Callum. “I guess I’m coming back to the hotel with you.”
We arrive back at the hotel to find all the crew seem to have disappeared to their rooms, or out into the city.
“It’s been a long day,” I say. “I’ll bet everyone is exhausted.”
“Yeah,” agrees Callum. “But the crew work hard willingly. They all love James.”
“They do?” It’s hard to imagine they could be fond of someone who makes them work such long hours.
“Sure they do,” says Callum. He pauses. “Issy, you fit so well on set, I forget it’s your first time.”
I laugh at this.
“But believe me,” he adds, “you don’t see this level of commitment from the crew on many movies.”
Oh. I didn’t know that.
“James deserves his loyalty,” adds Callum. “You see how he is with the crew? James knows everyone by name. Most directors just shout for ‘props’ or ‘hair’, but James calls for Scarlett or David. People like that.”
I hadn’t noticed, but now Callum says it, I guess it makes sense.
“I guess that’s good,” I say.
“It’s very good.” Callum nods decidedly. “It’s going to be a great movie. For all of us. Now. I’d better go call my wife and get my beauty sleep.”
Callum kisses my cheek and heads off across the lobby.
“Give your wife my love,” I say as he drifts into the elevator.
“Thanks,” he replies with a tired smile.
The elevator doors slide closed, and I find myself suddenly at a loss.
I glance at my phone, wondering if I should call James. And then I hear a familiar voice.
“Well, well, well. I didn’t know you were such good friends with the A List, Issy.”
I turn in surprise.
It’s Ben Gracey.
“Hi, Ben.” My words come out weakly as I turn to face him.
He looks me up and down, his eyes open wide.
“Good God, Issy!” His upper-class accent comes out full pelt. “You look… incredible.”
Ben is looking at me as though he’s trying to devour me through his eyes. I realise I’m still in my full screen make-up and raise a distracted hand to my face.
I don’t like him looking at me like that.
“Did you hear the latest news?” Ben adds, raising his arm. My eyes flick down to see he’s holding a newspaper.
“What news are you referring to, Ben?” I reply tartly.
I feel caught between several conflicting emotions. By all accounts, this is Lorna’s new boyfriend. He flew out to Spain to be with her. But he’s also got some serious history with James. And here he is, waving a newspaper at me and staring at me with frankly all-too-obvious intentions.
“Oh, yes,” says Ben, as if he’s forgotten. He raises his newspaper. “You didn’t see the headlines then? It looks as though Berkeley is finally getting his comeuppance.”
Anger and fear churn in my stomach.
“What do mean?”
Ben waves the paper at me, and I grab it off him and read the headline.
World Exclusive! James Berkeley admits that he’s not marriage material.
My mouth falls open in shock.
I feel like I’ve been body-slammed. The unexpected sight of Ben and his revelation of the headline are hitting me in double time.
“So,” says Ben, smugly. “Looks like Saint Berkeley has finally been brought low. I hope you weren’t foolish enough to be taken in by him, Issy.”
Something about the genuine pleasure Ben takes from this raises alarm bells.
Could Ben be the leak, after all? He certainly seems unnaturally pleased by the negative press.
I close my eyes for a second, trying to take everything in. Of course I knew the divorce had been announced. James told me days ago.
Out of the UK, I’d managed to avoid any celebrity news. But seeing it in black and white makes it all so real.
But the headline means something else.
It looks as though James has given the interview he promised to the reporter yesterday. And by the words of the headline, James has not come across well.
I wrench open the newspaper to see an old picture of James, taken with Madison. They’ve managed to catch an angle where Madison looks sad and James looks bored.
I catch a few key phrases. They seem to be referring to James as a spoiled bachelor who is unable to commit to a single woman.
“Berkeley claims he missed his bachelor lifestyle,” I read. “He admits he is still not ready to settle down.”
It’s so unfair. And it’s so untrue. James would never have said that. Why are they reporting him like this?
I feel tears welling up and fight to push them down.
Suddenly, I realise what’s happened. James is too smart to have let slip the things written in this interview.
He’s made a deal to convince the reporter to drop the story.
James’s words are replaying themselves in my head.
I’d walk over hot coals to protect you, Issy.
James must have promised the reporter a chance to drag him through the mud to prevent a story on us being published.
Oh James. Why did you do it?
But I know. I’ve been naïve. No reporter would have agreed to drop such a big story unless there was something very compelling in the exchange.
James knew that. The thought brings a flood of love for him. Stupid, brave James. He sacrificed his reputation to keep us out of the press.
“I thought you might have had a crush on Berkeley,” Ben is saying.
I force my attention back into the hotel lobby, only barely registering that Ben is still here.
“But Lorna told me you were too smart,” he adds.
I hand him back his newspaper in a daze.
“Um. Yeah,” I say vaguely. “James Berkeley is not really my type.”
“Then you’re cleverer than most,” says Ben. “He’s a handsome son-of-a-bitch. Most girls don’t see through that. They can only think from between their legs.”
Ben says this last part with an unpleasant look of distaste on his face.
I have a sudden picture of the contempt which Ben feels for women.
Ugh. Ben Gracey might be handsome. But he is a truly ugly person.
I am itching to be away from him. I can almost feel my skin crawl.
“So, are you waiting for your girlfriend?” I ask, hoping to bring the subject to his leaving.
Ben’s face flickers surprise, and then confusion.
“Lorna,” I clarify, not bothering to keep the disgust from my voice.
“Oh, yeah.” Ben gives me an easy smile. “Well, me and Lorna. You know. It’s very free with us. Very casual. You know.”
“No,” I reply acidly. “I don’t.”
Ben puts out a hand and touches my shoulder. I supress a shudder.
“Maybe we could go for a drink?” he suggests. “In the lobby bar? Whilst we wait for Lorna? You really are looking beautiful, Issy.”
Is he joking? My eyes widen in shock.
Ben Gracey actually has the nerve to try and pick me up. Whilst he’s waiting to take my best friend out.
I’m about to tell him that I rather stab my own eyes out, when a sudden sly thought hits me.
Could I find out whether Ben knows anything about the leak?
To my mind, Ben is still a prime suspect. Even if James thinks differently.
And if Ben is deluded enough to think I’d be interested in him, then perhaps he’s dumb enough to let something slip.
The idea rolls around my mind.
Is this a chance to find out if Ben’s behind it all?
“Ok,” I hear myself saying. “Why not?”
Ben gives me a broad smile, which I have no doubt has worked to charm countless girls.
“Then after you,” he says, tilting his head and gesturing with his hand that I should go ahead. “Staggering beauty before landed wealth.” He gives an awful laugh at this last part.
Ugh. How can Lorna stand him? He’s so smug and arrogant. What kind of guy mentions his wealth like that?
But whilst my mind is uncertain, my feet, at least, have a clear plan. They walk forward into the hotel lobby bar.
Ben has dialled the charm up a notch as we slide onto the high stools which front the bar.
“Let me choose you a cocktail,” he says, opening the menu. “I know all the best drinks here.”
I say nothing in response. My mind is whirling.
Ok, Issy, strange choice. You’re in a bar with a man you hate. You’d better get the goods, if this is going to be worth it.
“So Ben,” I say, aiming for a light smile, and leaning closer. “You’ve got a little history with Berkeley, right?”
Almost as soon as the words are out, I regret them.
Way to go for subtlety Isabella!
“I mean, you were stepbrothers,” I add hastily. “That’s what I heard.”
Ben visibly relaxes.
“Yeah, sure, that’s right,” he says. “You could call us that. Berkeley hated me, of course.”
I set my face to ‘interested’.
“He hated you?” I ask, carefully.
My mother and I weren’t good enough for his family,” says Ben. “Berkeley tried everything he could to get rid of us.”
There’s no anger in his voice. It sounds more like rehearsed lines. Like it’s a story he trots out to win a sympathy vote.
“Really?” I try to seem intrigued whilst pushing down my outrage. From what I know, James was mostly in Hong Kong when his father remarried. It would be hard to try and drive Ben and his mother away from there.
Judging by Ben’s ease of storytelling, I’m by no means the first recipient of this version of events. Inside, I am seething.
How dare he spread malicious lies about James?
“Hey!” shouts Ben suddenly. “Can we get some drinks over here? We’re thirsty.”
I wince as the barman spins around and hastily finishes our drinks.
“That’s better,” says Ben, taking his glass from the bar. He rolls his eyes. “One thing I hate about Europe,” he says, “the waiting staff. Service is so much better in America.”
Ben takes a long sip of his drink. “Out there, they work for tips,” he adds. “That’s how you get good service. Money. That’s how the world works.”
He looks bitter.
“So, you’re not best friends with Berkeley,” I press, wondering where I’m going with this. I can hardly come out and ask if Ben is leaking information.
“Nope,” Ben takes another sip of his drink. I pick mine up and take a polite sip. It’s incredibly sweet and not my taste at all.
Ben looks at me expectantly.
“It’s nice,” I say politely.
“All girls love that one,” he says.
I make a mental note to caution Lorna never to accept Ben’s cocktails. They’d send her diabetes off the scale.
“So, yeah,” continues Ben. “We’re not friends. Do you know, James wouldn’t even visit my brother when he was sick?” He shakes his head in disgust.
“No,” I say, trying to sound shocked.
I notice that Ben doesn’t add that it was a mental illness.
“I think that was the reason why my brother…” Ben stops, as if remembering himself. “Well, that’s a boring story,” he adds.
He takes another swig of his drink, and his eyes glitter dangerously. “Why don’t you tell me about you?” he asks, settling his gaze on my face.
“Um, well, you know. Not much to tell,” I falter. “Except, that I’m worried about newspaper coverage when the movie is out,” I add, desperately floundering to bring the conversation back to something useful. “I’m scared they might say bad things about me. Can actresses ever avoid that?”
I’m blatantly fishing now, and Ben frowns and glances at me suspiciously.
“I guess it might not be possible to avoid bad publicity,” I add with what I hope is a disarming smile.
Ben smiles back.
“I think it’s possible,” he says. “Just keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” He gives a hard laugh. “Be nice to the underpaid people on set,” he adds. “They’re the ones who’ll take a pay-off to spread dirt.”
“Good advice,” I reply.
My mind ramps through the people he might mean. The hair and make-up girls? David, the props handler? None of these positions can command top salaries. But I can’t bring myself to think any of these people would be capable of leaking to the press.
In fact, Ben is the only person who seems capable of that kind of malice.
Can I ask Ben about him and Camilla? I sip my drink, framing how I might bring the subject up, when I suddenly hear Lorna’s voice.
“Issy?” She sounds shocked.
I turn to see my friend’s beautiful face mired in confusion. And I feel a blush rising up. What should I tell her? She knows I don’t like Ben.
But Ben, clearly accomplished in these kind of situations, knows instantly what to do.
“Hello there gorgeous,” he says, sliding off his stool and planting a kiss on Lorna’s cheek. “I bumped into Issy in the lobby, so I persuaded her to come try out a drink I thought you might like.”
Wow. He really is shameless. But at least Ben’s aptitude from lying has spared me any suspicion from Lorna. After all, I can hardly tell her I went for a drink with Ben to try and discover if he was leaking to the press.
Lorna melts towards Ben, and her face lights up.
“Wow, really?” she says. “That’s good of you, Issy. I know you don’t like cocktails.”
Her eyes rest on the pink concoction on the table.
“Is that the drink?” She points.
“Um. Yeah,” I say. “It’s much too sweet for you though,” I add, pulling it hastily towards me.
I start to hear James’s voice. And even though I can’t see his face, I can tell he’s not happy.
I turn, trying to fight the guilt which is inching onto my expression.
But once I see his face, my bravery evaporates.
James looks really mad.
Every muscle in his body looks tense. He gives Ben a tight nod, his head barely moving.
I set my features stubbornly. I can talk to who I like, after all.
“Hello, Ben,” says James.
Ben gives him a lazy smile. “Berkeley. I trust you saw the papers?”
The self-satisfaction in Ben’s tone is infuriating.
“Looks as though that reporter really took you apart,” says Ben, his eyes flicking to Lorna to include her in his snide assessment.
Lorna is looking back and forth between me and James, clearly uncertain of what to make of it all.
James gives Ben a smile which doesn’t reach his eyes.
“Part of being a director involves taking responsibility for your actions,” he replies. “It’s not something you’d know a great deal about.”
Ben flinches, as if he’s been struck, and the smile slides from his face.
So James does have some kind of hold over him… But what?
Ben reaches his arm out to Lorna and pulls her closer to his side, as though seeking out comfort.
“Isabella, I need to talk to you,” says James. His tone is deadly serious.
And without waiting for an answer, he turns and walks out of the lobby bar.
I turn to Ben and Lorna, trying to play down the severity of James’s behaviour.
“I guess I’ll catch you later,” I say weakly. And then I turn and walk after James, pushing down the urge to run and catch him up.
James is pacing the lobby when I find him. And my immediate anxiety turns to annoyance.
“Hey,” I say, approaching him. When he doesn’t look up straight away, I grab his arm. “Hey!”
James’s green eyes drill into mine, and a little of my courage falters.
“You embarrassed me in there,” I say. “You made me feel like an idiot, walking off and making me follow.”
His face softens, a little.
“Don’t do that again,” I add, keeping my voice low. “I mean it. We may have a…” I search for the word, “an agreement in the bedroom, but that doesn’t work in real life, ok? I am not your goddamned submissive.”
I’m keeping my voice quiet, so no one else in the lobby can hear us. But the rage in my tone burns through.
To my amazement, James’s stern expression vanishes, and he breaks into a loud warm laugh.
“Come with me,” he says, taking my arm and pulling me into a private part of the lobby.
“Don’t laugh at me,” I hiss, furious with him as he pulls me along.
He stops laughing and lets my arm drop. We’re in a secluded area now, an empty off-shoot of the lobby with a few sofas where no one can see us.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his green eyes lighting softly on mine. “I didn’t mean to laugh at you. I couldn’t help it. The idea of your being submissive to me. It’s too ridiculous for words.”
Is he mocking me? My thoughts flash back to various bedroom scenarios. There’s no doubt that part of me readily submits to him.
“What do you mean?” I ask suspiciously.
“I mean that I totally agree with you,” he says, his eyes still alight with amusement. “We might have a ‘bedroom agreement’, as you term it. But outside of that, you are the least submissive girl I know.”
Oh. My rage simmers down a bit.
James puts his hands on my shoulders.
“But aside from your dreadful temper,” he says, “and the fact you won’t do as you’re told and stay away from Ben Gracey, you are perfectly behaved.”
I can’t resist him now. I’m smiling too.
“I guess I don’t feel like your submissive,” I admit grudgingly.
“Good, because that is a role I never saw you in.”
James sighs. “I just wish you would take my advice and stay away from Ben. He’s bad news. And he seems to suck people into trouble when they hang out with him.”
My mouth twists.
“Ben showed me the headline,” I say gently. “I know what you did.”
James stays silent.
“I know you let that reporter bad mouth you,” I press, “so he’d drop the story on us.”
Pain washes into James’s face. I reach forward and stroke his cheek.
“I hate that you had to do that,” I say, staring into his eyes. “But I love that you did it for me.”
“I’d do anything for you,” he says.
A surge of joy floods through me. I smile. “Thank you.”
“I’m sorry you had to see that headline,” adds James. “I was hoping, since we were in Spain, I would be able to hide it from you.”
“You don’t need to hide things from me James.” I sigh. “I know you want to protect me. But if this is going to work, you need to see me as a partner.”
James looks confused.
“It works both ways,” I say. “You can’t take on all my troubles and problems and not expect any help with your own.”
“Give me time, Issy,” says James. It sounds as though the words are coming with effort. “These feelings are all very new for me.”
For me too. Oh James.
“So the divorce was announced?” I ask warily.
“Yes.” James sighs. “Days ago. I explained it all, Issy. You knew it would be happening. I assumed you wouldn’t want an hourly account.”
Damn straight. I don’t want to hear a single thing about his divorce.
“No. You’re right. I didn’t,” I say.
I frown, remembering how I felt when I saw the newspaper.
“This is hard, James,” I admit. “It’s hard to deal with. I hate that you had to let a reporter bad mouth you.”
“I know,” says James softly. He pushes a lock of hair out of my face. “I don’t like it any more than you do. But I’m pleased that things are in motion now.”
He draws his thumb along my jaw. “We’re not out of danger yet,” he says. “But once the stories switch to Madison’s new romance, we should be ok.”
“But what about the leak?” I insist. “We don’t know who it is.”
“Is that why you were talking to Ben?” James asks.
“Yes,” I admit. “I thought I could get some information.”
“I know what you were doing.” James’s voice has turned to angry again. He sighs, and takes his hands off my shoulders, running them through his hair.
“I know what you were doing,” he repeats softly. “But there’s really no need, Issy. I told you, I’m handling this press leak business.”
He must notice the pain in my face as he says this. Because he takes me by the shoulders again, drawing me closer.
“You say you want us to be partners,” he says. “Which means I should confide in you more.”
I nod, and he sighs. “Then I’ll try, Issy. But it’s not easy. I’m an old-fashioned man, and I used to doing things my own way.”
He’s silent for a moment, and I say nothing, waiting for him to speak.
“I’ve had a report,” he says, “from my press people. It’s helped clarify things a little. Whoever is making the leaks had established a relationship with the press weeks back.”
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“It means it was someone associated with the movie before the stalker business,” says James slowly. “Which means we can rule out the extra security I brought in after the stalker problem.”
He’s speaking carefully, and I get a sense that he’s still not telling me everything.
One step at a time, Issy. Be grateful he’s telling you something, at least.
“So it was someone who is part of the existing crew,” I say, trying to make sense of it.
“Or cast,” says James. “I can’t rule that out.” Although I can tell from his face that he’s not seriously thinking that Callum would be suspect. And we’ve already worked out that Natalie can’t be behind it.
“Believe me,” adds James, “we’ll find out who it is.”
His expression is so sincere, that I find all my doubts vanishing.
“Ok,” I say, trying for a smile.
James nods and breathes out in relief.
“I don’t want you worrying about it,” he says. “In any case, I’ve got something planned for tonight which I want you to enjoy.”
I love James’s surprise nights out.
“Where are we going?” I ask, feeling the excitement begin to build.
“Later, we’ll be going out to a very special restaurant,” says James.
“Now, we’re going up to my hotel room.”
I’m half expecting James to transform into dominant mode as he shuts the hotel room door. But as he leads me into his hotel suite, his face is soft.
“I’ve been thinking about what I wanted to do to you all day,” he admits, taking both my hands and pulling me towards him.
“Mainly, I’ve been thinking about this.” His hand reaches up to cup my chin, and at his touch, I feel myself lifted up, as though I were floating.
Then he leans forward and takes my mouth in a beautiful, gentle kiss. His lips move on mine, and the slow rhythm is intoxicating.
All thoughts of press coverage and Madison vanish. All I can think about is him and this moment.
Then James breaks away, keeping his eyes fixed softly on my face.
“I love you,” he says simply.
“I love you too.”
We look into each other’s eyes for a long moment. And then he kisses me again.
Mmmmm. I sink into him, warm and drugged, by the kiss. Then I feel his hand slide along the length of my body, and other feelings begin to pulse.
“I’ve been thinking all day,” says James, “how you didn’t get the attention you deserved backstage.”
I didn’t? From what I remember, it was pretty damn hot.
“I thought it was time I gave you some romance,” he adds.
I give him a half-smile, still hazy from his kiss. “I didn’t know you were the romantic kind,” I reply.
“Well, perhaps not traditional romantic,” agrees James. He kisses my mouth, then stoops and sweeps me up into his arms so I’m held like a storybook heroine.
James locks his eyes on mine. “But I’m going to give you the best orgasm of your life.”
“That sounds pretty good,” I say, feeling light and love-drunk in his arms.
“Mmmm,” he says. “I’m looking forward to hearing you come.”
I feel a blush heat my cheeks.
“Oh Issy,” says James, “are you embarrassed? Don’t be. I promise you, in a few moments, you won’t be thinking of anything but how much pleasure I’m giving you.”
He lays me down on the bed and stands, removing his T-shirt.
“You are so beautiful,” he says. And then he kneels at the edge of the bed and lifts my foot, easing off my shoe. He runs a finger gently from my bare ankle right along the inside of my leg.
I feel myself quiver at the light touch.
James leans over and eases off my other shoe. Then he places it neatly beside the first. Everything he does now feels measured and deliciously premeditated.
He moves to the end of the bed and kneels up on it. Then his hand returns to my ankle, and this time my sensitised skin leaps at the contact.
Carefully, he raises my foot and plants a soft kiss on the inside of my ankle.
“Mmmm,” I murmur. Even this slight contact feels incredible.
He moves a little upwards and kisses slowly up the inside of my leg.
I feel myself sinking into the bed as my body relaxes. And then I contract in electric pulses of arousal as his mouth moves higher, towards my inside thigh.
“Lift up your arms,” he whispers.
As I raise my hands above my head, he slides my dress up, unhooking it at the back, and pulling it over my head.
Now I’m wearing nothing but my underwear.
He drops the dress onto the floor and returns to his tantalising path of kisses, tracking up inside my left thigh.
“I’m going to make every inch of your skin come alive,” he says, keeping the contact with my leg. “And when I finally make you come, you’re going to explode.”
Already, there are white waves of passion gliding up and down my legs, following where James’s mouth has been.
As he reaches the joining of my thighs, I’m crying out for his lips to make contact.
But instead, he sweeps over my panties with the very lightest of touches.
“Aaaaaah,” I moan. The effect is electric. How can he do so much to me with such little contact?
James lifts my other ankle and repeats the sensual line of kisses along my calf and then up my inner thigh.
This time, my whole body is already sensitised, and the effect is so arousing, it’s almost torturous.
Now he reaches my panties and kisses softly where they meet the skin.
“James,” I gasp.
He runs a finger under the edge of my panties and sweeps a thumb lightly from between my legs to the base of my stomach.
Then he moves his mouth and plants a warm path of kisses, following where his thumb has just been.
“I can already feel how wet you are,” he murmurs. “I hope you’re ready for this, Issy.”
I feel almost powerless to respond. The growing sensations in my body are already so strong.
James reaches a hand under my back and unhooks my bra, and then he’s gliding it off my shoulders, his fingers caressing me.
Now he slides his thumbs under my breasts and traces the line of them underneath.
“Mmmmm.” My body is on fire for him.
He moves his mouth downwards, this time stroking a path with his tongue. The sudden change of contact is like a lightning bolt of lust, striking my whole body at once.
I feel my back arch off the bed, and his hands grasp my waist, pinning me back down.
His lips have reached the top of my panties now, and he begins inching them down with his fingers. Every part of my body begins pulsing for him as he lifts my legs and drops my panties into the floor.
Gently, he spreads my legs, and as the cool air creates a new sensation on my wetness, I hear myself cry out.
Then he’s blowing warm air onto me, and it’s exquisite. I don’t want him to stop. But then his tongue is there, and I feel myself transported to another dimension of pleasure.
“Aaaaaah!” I feel myself pull up off the bed again, and James’s strong hands return to my hips, pinning me back down.
His mouth never breaks contact between my legs, and the waving warmth of his tongue is pure ecstasy.
“Oh my God,” I murmur. “That is incredible.”
James lifts his mouth away just fractionally. “Oh Issy,” he grins, his breath hot against me, “I’ve hardly got started.”
His mouth moves back between my legs, and I gasp. He varies the movements of his tongue, creating a barrage of incredible sensations and wracking my entire lower body with throbbing pleasure.
Then he stands, and I open my eyes wider to see him standing over me.
“I’m going to tie you up now,” he says, “and use a vibrator on you.”
I nod, not sure if he’s waiting for a response. Right now, I would agree to anything.
James slides open a bedside drawer and removes a soft length of black rope.
“Raise up your arms,” he whispers, “I’m going to tie you to the bed.”
I raise my arms up and let him secure my wrists. As I feel myself bound up, another arc of sensation comes into play. This helplessness lends a new fission to the desire already coursing through my body.
Then James takes a silver vibrator from the drawer. I’ve seen it before. This was one of the toys which James put in my chalet, back in London. I remember the pulsing feeling as I turned it on, and feel myself swell with expectation.
It’s curved and elegant looking, but it’s also fairly large. I wonder if he means to use it inside me.
“I’m enjoying making love to you,” whispers James as he climbs onto the bed and positions himself between my legs. “Everything I’m going to do to you is about giving you the most pleasure.”
He leans forward and kisses my mouth deeply. Knowing where his mouth has been should make me uncomfortable. But in the riot of sensations hitting my body, I don’t care about a single thing but how much I want him.
I feel the hardness of the vibrator in his hand.
“I’m going to slide this inside you,” he says. “It’s large enough to open you up a little. But you’re already wet enough that it won’t hurt you.”
I nod, finding it easy to put my faith in him utterly.
And then he slides the smooth vibrator deep inside me.
Ahhhhhh. The sensation of it, hard, deep, but not him. It’s difficult to describe. I feel filled up, but in a different way, to having James there.
I look into his eyes, and he moves forward and kisses me again. As his lips meet mine, he twitches his finger, and the pulsing vibrations light up inside of me.
“Oooooo,” I moan aloud, sighing into his mouth as he kisses me.
It’s a deeply erotic sensation, rooted inside my body.
“I want you to know how much I love you,” says James, his eyes on mine. “I want to see your face whilst I’m giving you pleasure, Issy.”
Inside of me, the vibrations are building up and up. As though I’m about to explode.
“I want you,” I whisper, lost in his eyes. “I want you inside of me.”
He moves away and slides off his trousers and boxers, freeing himself. I see his hand reach out to take a condom, and then his mouth is back down between my legs. And now the sensation is like nothing I have ever felt.
“Oh God!” I am writhing in total ecstatic bliss as James’s mouth works me expertly, and the toy pulses inside. “Please James.”
Slowly, he slides it out of me, and keeping his mouth tight against my wetness, moves the vibrator to make a shimmering path over each of my nipples.
I feel my breasts lift as the vibrations feather other them, sending a deep pulse of pleasure right through my chest.
Then James pulls away his mouth from between my legs, and he’s naked, on top of me. His hand rolls on a condom, and his mouth hits mine again.
I can taste myself on his lips, and the headiness of knowing this makes me kiss his more fervently.
He brings his hand down between our bodies, continuing the stroking contact on my clitoris where his mouth left.
And then he’s deep inside me. Deeper than he’s ever been, making measured thrusts.
“Oh James!” My arms are restrained. And I push against him, moving my mouth and arching my body as far into him as I can. I want every part of me touching him as he builds a relentless rhythm inside of me.
“I’m going to come.” As I say the words, my orgasm hits like a starburst. I feel myself lift up away from the bed, and James’s hot sweat is slick against my naked skin.
He reaches up and pulls on the ropes, securing my hands. I feel my wrists come apart, and my arms fall freely to the bed.
Automatically, my hands grip his behind, driving him as far into me as possible, and as I clutch at him, I feel him gasp and thrust harder.
White hot heat sweeps across every part of me, and then a shuddering wave of orgasm hits me again, taking me into another stratosphere of pleasure.
“Issy,” says James, “I can feel you. I’m coming.”
I lock my legs around his back and feel my whole body shake around him as he moans in orgasm.
And then the ripples begin to fade out a little, and I feel each cell in my body tingling. It’s as though every sense is super aware, and I cling to James, breathing his smell and holding his hot body tight.
I feel his rapid breathing begin to slow a little, and his arms tighten around me as he looks into my eyes.
“You were serious,” I gasp, reaching up to grasp a handful of his hair.
“That was the best orgasm of my life.”
He laughs softly.
I let my head thud back onto the bed, and my eyes thud up onto the ceiling.
“That was just incredible.”
James lounges beside me, rolling his arms across my body.
“For me too,” he admits. “There’s nothing I like more than giving you pleasure, Issy.”
“I think that makes you the perfect man,” I say, turning to him with a smile.
“I had a hidden agenda,” James admits.
“And what was that?”
James’s face suddenly turns more serious. “I want more of you, Issy. I want all of you.”
“You’ve got all of me,” I say. And I mean it. If I were in any doubt before, right now, there is no question in my mind. I am completely and utterly his.
“We’ll see,” says James. “You might be called upon to prove that.”
“How exactly?” I frown.
“I’m going to take you for dinner,” says James, stroking my cheek. “And then I’ll show you.”
I return to my hotel room to change for dinner and discover that James, once again, has designed my wardrobe for this evening.
A large box awaits me on the hotel bed. And I slide off the lid to reveal a swathe of sumptuous light-green satin inside. The fabric looks beautiful.
I lift the dress out carefully from the rustling tissue paper beneath.
Hmmm. Not a bad choice, Mr Berkeley.
The dress sweeps low at the top, with an elegant halter neck cut from light ribbons. It’s designed to fit close to the body at the top and swirl out a little at the bottom in an asymmetric hem bordered with handmade silk flowers.
I try and guess what the outfit might mean about tonight. It’s semi-formal, but not what I would call black tie.
My class apprehensions make a sudden, ugly appearance. I hope he doesn’t mean to take me somewhere filled with titled aristocrats.
I notice something else in the tissue paper at the bottom of the dress box.
There’s a heavy cream envelope and a flash of green fabric.
Carefully, I lay the dress out on the bed, and return to the box.
I lift out the envelope to see it’s been pinned to a pair of satin panties, in the same light green as the dress.
James Berkeley. We are going to have words, about you dressing me.
I frown at the idea of him orchestrating my wardrobe so completely. But I can’t help but admit the panties are beautiful. There’s no bra, and judging by the low neckline of the dress, it doesn’t need one.
Curiously, I open the envelope which had been pinned to the panties. There’s a single piece of card inside, and I pull it out.
Inked in the elegant, curving handwriting, which I recognise as James’s, are the words: ‘all the better to spank you in’.
I smile despite myself.
We’ll see about that.
Still smiling, I turn my attention back to the dress.
It’s got a slight Spanish look to the style, with the curving hem and flowers. Light green is not the right colour, of course. A traditional dress would be red. But, the bias shape and flowered hem makes a definite nod to local culture.
I peek at the label. It’s couture, by a Spanish designer.
Hmmm. An established designer would understand fashion heritage. So this is no accidental look. My guess is that James is taking me somewhere local. And the style of the dress is a clue.
I feel a little wave of relief. No need to worry about class anxieties then. If it’s a Spanish place, I’ll fit right in. I’ve been coming to this country since I was a child.
I shower, remove the remaining smudges of movie-set make-up, dry my hair, and draw on the satin panties. They fit close against my behind, and I like the way they feel.
I approach the dress reverently. I’ve never worn high fashion before. Carefully, I lift it up. It’s certainly a lot heavier than other dresses I’ve encountered. The satin is folded into perfect overlapping waves, and I’m guessing the material adds weight.
I pick it up and stand in front of the mirror. At first glance, I can’t see a way into the dress.
After a little searching, I find a hook and a zip, perfectly hidden at the side.
I guess that’s part of what you pay a designer price tag for.
I don’t even want to guess what James paid for this dress. I can tell, just by the feel of it, this is probably the most expensive item I have ever handled.
Slowly, I slide it on, dipping my head through the delicate halter neck ribbon.
The top is designed to fit tightly, and I see that expert corseting has been stitched inside the dress. I see the ends of two laces, which I presume are to tighten the body, and give them an experimental tug.
In the mirror in front of me, my waist leaps from slim to non-existent. I stare unbelievingly at my reflection, hardly able to take in what I’ve just seen.
Can a dress do that? No wonder A-listers look so amazing at events.
I unloose the laces a little, giving myself a bit more room to breathe. The effect is still astounding. I no longer resemble Betty Boop, but my stomach is the flattest and tightest it’s ever been.
I pull up the zip, closing the green satin across my bust. It skims a line, very low across my chest, exaggerating the hourglass effect of the waist corseting even further.
I let the skirt drop down, bringing the silken flowers of the hem to rest in an asymmetrical line which starts high on my thigh and ends just below the knee.
The light green has done something amazing to my eyes, making the blue-grey tones even brighter against my pale skin. Traditional Spanish red makes my black hair deeper and more dramatic. But this green colour makes my eyes the main event.
I let out a breath, taking in my reflection.
Now the dress is closed, the figure flattering apparatus inside is completely hidden. You would never guess that this dress contained corsetry.
I shake my head in wonder. You can’t odds the genius of that.
There’s no doubt about it, Issy. You look totally stunning.
I stifle a grin at my own lack of modesty. But it’s true. I now understand why people have a love affair with designer clothing. If they can make this kind of transformation, then I see the appeal.
There’s a soft knock at the door.
“Hello?” I call, still glued to the strange novelty of my own reflection.
“Are you ready?”
James’s voice. As ever, I feel a stab of excitement.
“Give me a minute,” I call.
I’ve not had time for make-up, so I launch myself towards the mirror and make a few quick sweeps of mascara.
There, that will have to do. I figure the dress will do a lot of the work for me.
I walk to the door and open it.
On the other side stands James, immaculately dressed in a dark suit. He’s holding a bunch of red roses.
Red roses. Oh James.
I smile up at him to see his face is frozen in amazement.
“Issy,” he breathes. “You look…. Oh wow.”
I smile shyly.
He steps into the room quickly.
“We’re not going out.” He sets his face in a comic expression of fear. “I can’t have other men see you like that,” he says, closing the door behind him and stepping towards me. “I’d spend the whole night fighting them off.”
I laugh. “It’s a risk you’ll have to take.”
“I’m not so sure about that.”
He’s staring at the dress.
“Stop it,” I laugh. “Your eyes will pop out of your head.”
“I think they might.”
James hands me the flowers and takes a step back to assess my outfit again.
“My God,” he murmurs. “Words do not do you justice, Isabella Green.”
“Thank you,” I smile, sinking my head into the fragrant blooms. “They’re beautiful. I don’t know what I did to deserve an entire bunch.”
“You deserve that and more, every day,” says James. His eyes haven’t left my figure since he’s stepped in the room.
Divested of the flowers, I notice he’s also holding a pair of green high-heeled shoes.
“Are those for me as well?”
“They’re certainly not for me,” he says. “But I’m not sure I can let you have them.”
“And why not?” I move to place the bunch of roses on the bed.
James steps towards me, moving his arms around my waist. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to concentrate on a single thing all night, seeing you looking like this.”
“I spent a long time imagining you in that dress,” he adds, “and now all I can think about is getting you out of it.”
He pulls me a little tighter. “If I wasn’t such a gentleman, I would rip the clothes off your lovely body right now.”
I feel a twinge of lust spark through me.
“However,” he says with a sigh. “I’m looking forward to tonight. And I’d hate to be late.”
I’m remembering his words from before.
He wants me to prove that I’m his.
Where could we be going?
We venture out of the hotel on foot, and James assures me the restaurant is only a few streets away.
“I chose it deliberately,” he says, “because I had an inkling of how beautiful you would look in that dress. And I didn’t want to have to wait too long to get you back to the hotel.”
“That doesn’t sound too gentlemanly,” I admonish him.
“My sincerest apologies,” James replies. “Lust and manners are not comfortable bedfellows.” He pulls me closer to him as we walk.
We’re out on Las Ramblas now, Barcelona’s main thoroughfare. It’s lined with outdoor restaurant seating, colourful shops, stalls, and busking artists and performers.
The warm night air feels light on my bare shoulders.
“Besides, I regret the decision to be within walking distance now,” admits James. “I didn’t think about the consequences of taking you outside.”
“Haven’t you noticed?” asks James. “Every single person on this street is staring at you.”
I have noticed a few glances, but I’m sure he’s exaggerating.
James shakes his head. “You are going to be a movie star in every sense of the word,” he says sadly. “I only hope I’ll be able to cope with it all.”
I’m never sure how to take this line of conversation, so I say nothing, choosing instead to soak up the heady atmosphere of the Barcelona streets.
James makes a sudden move left, drawing me to the side of the road.
“Here we are,” he says.
“We’re here already?”
We’re stood in front of an empty-looking building, and I can’t see any clue as to a restaurant.
“Up there,” he clarifies.
I tip my head and see glowing candles and a tiny sign in the window of the second floor. It’s written in Catalan, rather than Spanish, which is the native language of Barcelona.
Must be a real local place.
I turn to James, questioningly. “Come on,” he says. “Let’s go in.”
I follow James up a dark staircase, and we emerge into a typically Spanish-looking restaurant. There is a large bar of dark polished wood with a long sweep of ornate tiles behind it.
Hanging from the bar are large sides of cured meat and an elaborate construction of tiled shelving filled with wine bottles and jars of olives.
From what I can make out, it’s a very typical Spanish bar. I’ve seen this kind of set up a hundred times before. And I’m at a loss to know why James has brought me here.
It seems like nothing out of the ordinary. Which from what I know of James, is not his style at all.
I take a scan around. There is a clutch of low tables, each with a wine bottle bearing a candle. A few diners are enjoying tapas style dishes.
I notice that the dress is conspicuously smarter than usual. The men are mostly suited. And the women wear evening dresses. But aside from the formal dress, it all seems very average.
Maybe James just wanted us to go to a typical, local place for once.
But something tells me that’s not the answer.
“Can I get you a drink?” James asks, approaching the bar.
“Cold sherry? I’m told it’s the drink to start with in Spain.”
I smile at him. “Technically, we’re in Catalan,” I say with a smile, “so we should be drinking Cava.”
“I’m impressed by your local knowledge.” He grins.
I shrug. “I came to Spain a lot as a child. The Catalan distinction is a big deal here. You can accidentally insult someone in Barcelona by calling them Spanish.”
“I’ll bear that in mind.”
James orders two glasses of Cava, and we both sip the sparkling wine, staring out into the wider restaurant.
“Can you guess why we’re here?” says James, after a moment.
“No. I have absolutely no idea.”
“Let’s go to our table,” says James. “It starts in a few minutes.”
He doesn’t answer, and instead, takes my hand to lead me to one of the low tables. But I’m already working it out.
“It’s a flamenco bar?” I guess.
James nods as we take our seats.
“I didn’t think they had them in Barcelona,” I murmur. “Flamenco is a southern Spanish thing.”
I’m not sure how I should feel about this. I do love to watch flamenco. But it feels like a private thing to me. I’m not sure I want to watch it with James.
“I had difficulty finding a place with real talent,” admits James. “I’m assured the dancers here could rival those in Madrid.”
Personally, I doubt that. But I do have my own national bias. My mother’s family is from Madrid.
Plates of smoked almonds and green olives are laid in front of us, and James orders two beers.
The drinks have barely been brought to the table when the seated diners descend into a hush.
I turn my head to see what is undoubtedly the star attraction.
A tall, slim woman has entered the room. Her raven black hair is slicked back into an impeccable bun, with styled curls arranged around her face. At the back, a festoon of white silken flowers flow towards her neck.
Her eyes are heavy, lidded with dark make-up, and her lips are a slash of bright scarlet.
She wears a deep red dress, which is tight on the body and ornamented with drifts of black lace around the arms and shoulders. At the bottom, her dress explodes in a flowing cascade of ruffled fabric, like a frothing river of red.
I feel my heart make a little leap.
This was what first inspired me to dance flamenco. As a little girl, I was stunned by the dramatic beauty of the dancers. I loved the accent of the dark hair and pale skin, and of course, I wanted to wear the flamenco dress.
My mother borrowed money to buy my first dancing dress, and I adored it so much, I never wanted to take it off.
“I take it you like to watch flamenco?” asks James.
I turn to see his eyes are dancing. My expression must have been a picture, staring after the dancer, lost in my own thoughts.
“Yes,” I say. “I like to watch it.”
“But not with me?” guesses James, picking up on the tone of my voice.
I sigh. “I don’t know. I’ve watched a lot,” I add, “to improve my own dancing. Flamenco always seem a strange paradox to me. In some ways, it’s an intensely private, personal dance. In other ways, it’s a public outpouring of grief. Maybe that’s why I like it so much.”
James is looking at me, fascinated.
“You’ll see what I mean,” I add. “If she’s good.”
The dancer has reached the middle of the floor now, and there is a boom of sound as the first dramatic bars of the music echo out.
The dancer stands rigid, one arm swept upwards, her eyes fixed. Every muscle in her body is unmoving.
I know from experience how hard it is to achieve that stillness. James has chosen well, I realise. She is good.
Instantly, the bar is silent. Then the music quietens out, weaving a disarming new tempo, and slowly, the dancer begins to curve and sway.
My eyes move to her face.
Her face. She’s got it.
The dancer’s expression is so deep in loss and pain. Her mouth is taught with grief, her eyes heavy in mourning.
Her hand spins gracefully at the wrist, like a swirl of water. Then her other hand follows, and her torso sways with the rhythm. It’s enchanting. Mesmerising, to watch.
I remember my own practice. The dedication needed to weave those graceful loops and circles.
Without meaning to, I turn my own hand at the wrist, keeping time to the music.
My mouth is chanting the silent pace to the dancer. I almost feel as though I am part of her as she collapses forward and spins upwards again, her feet stamping to the music.
Her back is curved, upright, proud. But her face is lost, alone and full of devastation. The contrast is so incredibly moving. It’s the pride which so many women bear, every day, through loss and grief.
My eyes burn with sudden tears.
I feel a surge of feelings and memories rising up.
I close my eyes, trying to ride it out, but the flamenco music continues to lance at me, even with the dancer out of view.
I feel James squeeze my hand, and the pain in my heart lessens.
I open my eyes to look at James. His face is stricken, and his eyes are bright.
My hand is warm in his. And suddenly, I feel safer to let the tears flow down my cheeks and lose myself in the dance.
My eyes sink back to the whirling dress, and the relentless rhythm of the music. The dancer’s footwork matches every beat, whilst her upper body keeps its rigid twirling shapes.
Following her movements, I feel my body respond. I want to dance.
Flamenco is not choreographed, and I feel my mind spin around the possibilities of how I would move.
Then, in a final dramatic beat, the dance is over, and the dancer stands rigid and upright.
The audience breaks into stunned applause.
James rises to his feet, clapping, and I join him. Soon, all the seated diners are standing and applauding.
The dancer’s face flushes with delight, and she nods to her audience.
Then with a quiet grace, she exits the stage.
I sit back down, stunned with what I’ve just seen.
“Thank you,” I say to James as he sits next to me. “That was incredible.”
James is assessing my face.
“Are you sure?” he asks, “I was worried it might be a step too far. I almost didn’t bring you.”
I sigh out, thinking about this. “I loved it,” I admit. “I haven’t seen flamenco like that for a long, long time.”
“Good,” says James. He looks relieved.
“I have no idea why that dancer is in Barcelona, rather than Madrid,” I add, with a laugh. “She could have her pick of where to perform.”
“I’m glad you liked her,” smiles James.
I give him an uncertain smile in return. I’m still confused. The raft of memories and long forgotten feelings. It’s as though I’ve been in the eye of a storm, which has suddenly dispersed. And I’m left wondering what the hell just happened.
“Shall I order us a few dishes?” asks James.
“Sure.” I haven’t touched my beer, and I pick up the bottle and take a long sip. The cold liquid feels good.
“It’s not table service now,” says James. “I’ll be back in a moment.” And he heads to the bar.
I let my thoughts drift around the flamenco act, and my gaze settles on the empty stage.
Part of me misses the dance, I realise. Part of me would have liked to be the dancer, whirling to the crowd.
James is back at the table, suddenly, and his face is uncharacteristically surprised.
“Isabella,” he says as he sits. “Did you know that flamenco dancer?”
“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’ve never seen her before.”
“Well, she knows you,” says James. “She says she remembers you.”
“She does?” I blink up at him in confusion. To my knowledge, I have never seen her before in my life.
“Yes,” says James. “She’s asked to come over to our table.”
The dancer approaches our table with a cautious smile. She’s lost the elaborate flowers in her hair and taken off some of the flowing train from her dress.
I smile politely as she nears, hardly knowing what to make of the situation.
“Isabella?” she says, pronouncing my name with the Spanish emphasis on bella.
“Si?” I answer as a question.
“I’m sorry,” says the dancer, speaking in Spanish. “I know you won’t know who I am. But I remember you. You are the child dancer. Aren’t you?”
I am stunned into silence.
“I watched you perform,” she continues, “when you were very young. It was magnificent. We all assumed you would be one of the greats.”
I feel myself blushing at the unexpected praise.
“I don’t dance anymore,” I say, not sure how to take the compliment. “You were incredible,” I add. “The depth of emotion. It was stunning.”
The dancer blows out her cheeks and taps my arm in remonstrance.
“You talk to me about emotion.” She turns to James. ”In Spain, the best flamenco dancers are not young,” she explains. “They do not have the depth of feeling. But this one.” She taps my arm again. “This one, as a child could command feeling in her face like an adult.”
She shakes her head.
“Why did you not stay in Madrid and train?”
“I went to London,” I say. “My mother thought my dancing would get me into drama school there.”
“It’s a shame for Spain to lose you,” says the dancer, with feeling. “For one so young to have that compas…”
“What is compas?” asks James, questioning the unfamiliar Spanish word.
“It’s a bit like rhythm,” I say.
“No, no,” says the dancer, shaking her head. “It is not rhythm. Rhythm is da da da,” she waves her hand disparagingly. “Compos is Bom. Bom. Bom.” She strikes one hand hard into the other with each word.
“There is no translation. It is much more precise. Very difficult,” she adds.
“Where did you see Isabella dance?” asks James.
I feel my face flush with embarrassment. Don’t ask her that!
The dancer’s eyes widen in surprise.
“In the main square, in Madrid, of course. Her mother used to take her to dance there. They used to make a lot of money. People would come from all over town to see.”
Argh! I hate that he knows we had to busk for money.
I see James’s face register this revelation, whilst I am cringing with embarrassment.
“We didn’t have much money,” I say, feeling my cheeks burning. “So sometimes we would busk. But not very often. Only when we were in Spain.”
“Has he seen you dance?” the dancer is asking me, glancing at James.
“No,” I reply. “I don’t dance anymore.”
The dancer shakes her head. “A woman never stops dancing when she has learned flamenco. You should dance for him. Let him see. There is a stage and music here. Many of the women here will dance tonight.”
I’m shaking my head. Although the idea is far less awful than it would have been a half hour ago.
“Well, it was nice to meet you,” says the dancer, standing up. “You have grown up to be very beautiful. I always wondered what happened to the little girl with the sad face.”
The evening draws on, and James and I enjoy drinks and tapas plates in the heady atmosphere of the bar.
At regular intervals, music strikes up, and several of the local women dance their own improvised flamenco to the crowd.
Several are very good, and I enjoy watching their performances. But none are so technically accomplished or emotionally beguiling as the first dancer.
“Does it make you want to dance?” asks James as a woman drifts away from the floor to rounds measured applause.
“A little,” I admit. “But mostly, I just like to watch.”
James’s expression suggests he doesn’t believe me, but we continue to enjoy our evening without further mention of my dancing.
Eventually, the bar has all but emptied out, and we’re almost the only people remaining.
Since watching the flamenco, I feel as though something inside me has shifted. It’s almost a physical sensation. As though I’ve developed some new muscles and am carrying old wounds a little better.
Mostly, I realise, I feel safe around James. As though he could carry me through anything. I remember what he said to me in the Paris restaurant.
That he’d catch me, if I fell.
Am I starting to believe him?
I let myself sink against his body with a little sigh. James moves his mouth to kiss my hair. His next words come out so quietly, I am hardly sure I’ve heard them.
“I want to watch you dance,” he says.
My body tenses. I stay silent, not knowing how to reply.
“You’ve been so brave, Issy,” he says, murmuring into my hair. “You’ve given me so much. And you’ve been willing to try things, to make me happy.”
I swallow and nod. It’s true. I have been brave. Sexually. But this is something completely different.
I feel my heart pounding in my chest.
“What good do you think it would do?” I manage. “For you to see me dancing?”
“It’s not only for me,” says James. “It’s for you. I think it’s a part of you which needs to come out.”
“What do you mean?”
“Issy. There’s a sad part of you which is locked tight. I know you can’t tell me easily. But I think you could show me. In your dance. And I think… I think it would help you. To share that.”
I feel my heart turn to ice. My memories of dancing are hazy. But I remember the audition clear enough.
“There’s no music,” I hedge.
I feel James smile into my hair. “They’ll start it, as soon as you get on the floor. That’s what they did for all the other dancers tonight.”
“I don’t know,” I reply. Something in me is stirring. But I don’t know if I’m brave enough to revisit that place.
“Do you remember what I said, back at the hotel?” asks James. “I want you to share everything with me. Every little bit. That includes the sadness.”
The sadness. The way he says it makes it sound so real.
I feel myself waver.
I pull away from him, so I can look into his eyes. “If I do this for you,” I say, “will that be the end of it? No more talking about my childhood?”
James gives a faint smile.
“If that’s what you decide.”
“But you’re hoping I’ll change my mind? Afterwards?”
“I am hoping that, yes,” he admits.
“You’re wrong,” I say. “I won’t change my mind.”
“Then prove me wrong.”
Stubbornly, I rise from the little table, flashing him a defiant look.
Fine, Mr Berkeley. If that’s what you want.
I assess my outfit. My skirt is not quite long enough, but it will do. I don’t have the right shoes. But I always preferred to dance bare foot anyway. Silently, I lever my footwear off.
“You really want me to do this?” I demand, trying for a last minute reprieve.
James nods. “I really want you to do this.” His eyes are fixed on mine.
With my heart pounding, I turn and approach the floor.
The barman catches my approach and raises his eyebrows as a question. I nod to him.
Start the music.
And then the first strains start. The music sounds completely different, now I’m on the dance floor.
It’s so real. Like a heartbeat thudding through me.
I haven’t felt this in so long.
Automatically, my body reacts to the music. I stiffen and arch my back.
Memories are flashing. The audition. The stern faces.
I let my arms stretch upwards, winding my wrists slowly as they ascend. And as they reach their graceful apex, I strike my foot strongly on the ground.
With the movement, the dance comes flooding back. And I feel my face load with sadness.
How could I ever feel this much grief?
The memories of that sadness are so acute, that they momentarily take my breath away. But my body turns, automatically, in the rhythm of the dance. My wrists, flex and turn fluidly. My hips twists fast, and then stop. My bare feet stamp out the rhythm.
This is what it was like. Your body helped your mind forget.
The sudden realisation seems to root me deeper in the music. How could I have forgotten this? This close attention to the minute movements of every part of me. Pain was lodged in every movement. No wonder my Spanish dancing was so accomplished. The concentration helped me blot out what was happening in my life.
I feel a physical surge, as though a part of me is rushing open, flooding me with grief.
My feet whirl, and the moving air catches my face. My cheeks are wet with tears, but I hardly notice.
I let my soul sink into the music and the sad strains threaten to overtake me entirely.
I am falling, but my body holds rigid as I hold the next posture.
Like a stone statue. Stone doesn’t feel anything.
The sentences from my childhood take me by surprise. Did I say those words to myself? Did my mother?
Then my torso turns again, and my hand scoops the hem of my skirt into a perfect figure of eight.
Another memory rears up. I try and fight it, but this time I can’t.
It feels like I’m falling… falling…
I suddenly realise that I’m sobbing. And then James is at my side.
“Issy.” He takes me into his arms, and I sink into him.
“It’s alright, Issy. Shhh. You don’t have to say anything. It’s alright.”
I look into his face. There are tears in his eyes.
“Issy,” he whispers, “I had no idea you were hiding so much.”
James looks so sad.
“You’re coming back to the hotel with me, right now,” he says. “And you’re going to tell me everything.”
By the time we’ve reached James’s hotel room, I’ve mastered some of my emotions. But I still feel like a glass which has been shattered.
James leads me gently into the room and seats me on the bed.
“I knew you had sadness in you,” he says. “I didn’t know how much.”
He pauses for a moment.
“You need to tell me, Issy,” he says. “You need to tell me what happened to you.”
He takes my hands and looks into my eyes.
“What you’re carrying could overwhelm you,” he says. “You need to talk about it. Believe me. I know.”
“What do you want me to tell you?” I feel lost, drifting, but some stubbornness remains.
“Tell me about your father.”
Just him saying the words sparks an electric bolt of pain.
I close my eyes, letting it ride out. But when I open my mouth to speak, no words come out.
“You can do this,” says James gently. “You’re brave, Issy.”
I am. I am brave.
I swallow. “My father,” I begin. “I was eight when he died.”
I take a long, ragged breath, trying to keep my words straight.
“He died in a car accident. The police came, to tell us. And the first thing I felt, was anger.” The last words come out as a distraught whisper, and tears fill my eyes, threatening to overwhelm me.
James holds my hand and says nothing. I sit silently, letting the warmth of his skin soothe me.
“I was so angry with him,” I breathe. “I know it was wrong. But that was all I could feel. No grief. Nothing. I blamed my father. I thought he could have done something, to prevent the accident. He should have known, not to go out that night. I was furious, that he left us.”
I turn to look in his face, expecting to see horror, even disgust. But there is nothing but patience and understanding.
“My mother fell apart,” I say, my voice still wavering and choked. “My father had always taken care of money, and bills. She just couldn’t cope.”
James squeezes my hand tighter.
“We ended up drifting, in and out of communal houses. Places where my mother’s friends were. They were artists, musicians. All struggling, trying to make it, in London. It wasn’t really the right environment for a child.”
I’m feeling stronger now, and my voice comes a little clearer. As I talk, I feel as though I’m exploring my reaction to it all for the first time.
“I think I’d dealt with his death,” I say. “But it was the effect on Mami, that was so hard.” I give James a little quivering smile, and he nods. “She was so grief-struck. And it kind of meant, there wasn’t any room, for me to be unhappy. I had to take on a lot of adult responsibilities, very young.”
I shake my head, remembering.
“When it first happened, I was so angry.” My eyes open wide at the memory. “I felt like I could have screamed aloud for a month. Then after a few years, living in communes, I don’t know how I felt. Numb, I guess.”
James is nodding his head at this.
“That’s very typical,” he says, “in response to trauma. It’s a sign that you’ve not dealt with the grief and pain.”
I look at him in surprise. He sounds like a therapist.
“Believe me,” he adds, “I know.”
Of course he does. James has his own demons.
He sighs and takes both my hands in his.
“Issy,” he says, “I can’t tell you anything to take your feelings away. And take it from someone who knows, it’s better in the end to feel them than block them out.”
He smiles at me. “What I can do is be here for you and listen to you without judgement.”
His green eyes are on mine.
“I love you so much,” he says. “Nothing you could say would ever make me love you less.”
I let his words sink in, testing them out.
My eyes fill with tears again.
It feels good to have his acceptance. So much of what I feel about my father seems shameful and wrong. But speaking out loud has helped. James was right about that. It was hard. But it wasn’t nearly so awful, as I feared.
“I can’t bear that you’ve been carrying this pain around,” says James. “And I’m privileged that you’ve let me in.”
James carries me to bed and holds me, stroking my hair, until my eyes start to close.
“No wonder you’re so tired,” he murmurs. “It’s been an emotional day for you.”
“I’m not tired,” I blink up at him, warm in his arms.
He laughs softly and continues the slow stroking of my hair.
“I think you are.”
I try to answer, but I’m suddenly slowed with exhaustion, and the words don’t come out. Before I know it, I’m falling into a deep sleep.
I awake to early dawn light, wrapped in James’s arms. He must have slid off the green satin dress after I fell asleep, as I’m clad in nothing but satin panties.
That’s the second time he’s undressed me, I realise, after an emotional night out.
I wonder, for a moment, if we’ve both slept in. Since James starts so early on set. Then I remember that we’re due to start slightly later this morning. There were some traffic permissions to obtain, so filming has to wait until paperwork is completed at 9am.
I sigh into James’s warm body, inhaling the smell of him.
I feel different this morning. As though I’ve been cleansed. And the dawn light feels wonderful.
I know that I will always carry sadness from my childhood memories. But for the first time, there is a possibility that the numb pain, lodged deep in my heart, could melt a little.
I slip out of James’s arms, careful not to wake him, and pull on one of his T-shirts, which I find draped over a hotel chair. Then I walk over to the window. The Barcelona streets haven’t yet come to life, and I drink in the wonderful sweeping view of the city square outside.
I turn back to where James is still sleeping. And it’s then I notice a stack of documents on a writing desk at the other side of the room.
I remember James telling me there had been a press report given to him. Could it be with this paperwork?
I can’t help but be curious, and I move over to where the documents lay.
“Issy?” James’s sleepy voice echoes across the bedroom, and I freeze guiltily, halfway towards the desk.
“Come back to bed,” he says.
I pad back over to the bed and slip in beside him.
“Mmmm,” he says, pulling me close and kissing me. “I like how you look in my T-shirt.”
“Thanks,” I giggle, nuzzling into him.
“But I think I’d like you a little better if you were out of it,” he adds, sliding a hand underneath it and stroking the edge of my nipples.
Mmmmm. I feel my body leap to life under his touch.
Then his phone beeps, and he frowns.
“Hold on a moment,” he says. “This could be important.”
Something about his tone makes me anxious. The beep from his phone wasn’t like his regular ringtone. Could this be the tone he’s assigned to his press team?
James slides out of bed and strides out of the room, grabbing a sheet to cover himself.
I feel my stomach lurch. Something must be wrong if he doesn’t want me to hear this phone call.
From the next room of the suite, I hear his voice, deep and urgent.
Another leak. It must be. I crawl miserably out of bed, wondering what’s going to happen. And for the second time, the pile of documents catch my attention.
Surely it wouldn’t hurt to take a quick look?
Before I can change my mind, I step towards the desk and leaf through the pile.
There’s all kinds of filming documents here, and pages of script, annotated in red pen. But I can’t see anything which looks like a press report.
Then, halfway through the pile, my fingers close on a manila folder. It’s stamped with an official-looking logo and has ‘report’ stamped on the front.
This must be it.
I take a guilty glance over my shoulder. I can still hear James in the other room, talking on the phone.
I pause for a second, and then I flip open the file.
And as my eyes make out the words, they widen in shock.
Inside is not what I was expecting. Not what I was expecting at all.
Three familiar words swim before my eyes. Words I’d hoped never to see again.
The Lipstick Stalker.
I hear myself gasp. Why is this here? I scan the first page in confusion.
It’s a report which has been compiled on the Lipstick Stalker.
I thought that was all over with.
I leaf through the papers in fascinated horror. All the details on the Lipstick Stalker case are here, but there are surprisingly few details on the man himself.
I shut the documents with a snap, my heart racing.
What in the hell?
I turn to see James, standing in the doorway.
I’m still holding the documents. James walks towards me and slowly edges them out of my fingers. I realise my hands are shaking.
I stare at him for a moment.
“What is this all about?” I ask finally. “Why do you have this report, on your desk?”
James rubs his forehead. He looks tired. “It’s really nothing, Issy,” he says.
When my face shows a complete lack of belief, he sighs.
“Honestly,” he says. “It really is nothing for you to worry about.”
“Then why is it here?” Terrifying memories of my brief capture are tunnelling back into my brain. And my voice comes out partway hysterical.
“Shhh.” James pulls me close, and then takes me by the shoulders.
“The police sent me that report,” he says after a moment. “They seem to think that the stalker was fascinated with Berkeley Studios for a long time.”
“What do you mean?”
“They uncovered a place they think the stalker stayed. It shows plans around my studios, going back years.”
I try to compute this.
“So why have you been sent the report?” I demand.
“The police want my help in piecing together some of the evidence they found. The stalker has remained very tight-lipped, and they’re trying to build a full picture.”
I assess how I feel about this. From what we knew before, the stalker was obsessed with fame and celebrity. It makes sense he would have targeted James’s studio from the beginning.
“So you’ll have to go visit with the police?” I ask.
“Yes. But not for some time,” he adds. “It really is nothing for you to worry about.”
Isn’t it? Suddenly, I don’t know anymore.
“Issy.” James strokes my cheek. “You have been through so much in the last few weeks. I didn’t tell you about this because I thought it better you forgot all about it. This doesn’t concern you, Issy. The stalker is locked away and you’re safe. I’m just helping the police with their investigations.”
That makes sense, I guess.
I sigh out loud. “It’s just with the press leak and everything,” I say, trying to keep the tears from my eyes. “I feel as though everything is against us. I wanted the stalker thing to be done with. Buried.”
“It is,” James reassures me. He pulls me tight. “It is,” he repeats, murmuring into my hair. “I would never let anyone hurt you, Issy.”
“What about the press?” I insist, my mind flying to his last phone call. “Are we going to be hiding from them forever?”
I feel James shakes his head. He pulls away, so his eyes are on mine.
“I just got some good news,” he says. “About the press leak.”
“Did you find out who’s been leaking?” The words come out more urgently than I mean them to.
“No. But I found a way to find out who’s doing it.”
“I can’t tell you exactly,” he says. “But it involves relocating, later today.”
I’m confused. That sounds like running away. Is James telling me the whole truth about the leak situation?
“Why can’t you tell me exactly?” I am challenging him. “You said before you would try and include me in decisions like this.”
He shakes his head. “Please, Issy, you have to trust me.”
“No.” I set my jaw determinedly. “We talked about this. Stop shutting me out.”
“Issy.” James’s tone is stern. “Please, just take my word for it. What I’m doing is for the best.”
His eyes are pleading with me, and I feel my stubbornness slide away.
“Are we going somewhere else in Spain?” I say, finally.
“No,” says James. “We’re flying back to England.”
Back to the lion’s den. Is this good news?
“So we’re no longer under threat from the newspapers?” I clarify. “We can go back to the studio?”
“No.” James is shaking his head. “The new location is strategic, for my plans to stem this leak.”
“Then where are we going?”
“You’ll find out soon enough.”
I huff out my cheeks, frustrated with all this subterfuge.
“James…” The words come out falteringly.
“Do you really think you can find out this leak? Tell me honestly? Are we just running away?”
James’s face lifts in a gentle smile. His eyes flick down to the desk. Beside the piles of documents is his Apple laptop.
“I want to show you something,” he says, lifting the lid of the laptop and firing it to life. The screen display pops up, and James scans through a multitude of what looks like admin folders.
Then he clicks open a file, and an image pops up.
It’s a photograph of a woman lying on a chaise lounge. And it takes me a second to compute what he’s showing me.
Wow. That’s me. But I look so different, the way James has captured me on camera. The unfamiliar sight takes my breath away.
“I never showed you the pictures I took of you,” he says gently.
My eyes focus on the image. I’m laid out on the chaise lounge in my underwear. My gaze is settled unwaveringly towards the camera.
I’m surprised by the boldness of my expression. I don’t remember feeling that brazen.
James flips to a second image.
This time the focus is only on my face. My eyes are slightly dropped, knowing. And my lips are parted. If I were to describe the expression on my face, I would call it an awakening. As though a lifetime of sexuality has rushed into my body, just at the moment the camera flickered.
I’m astounded to see myself like that.
I turn questioningly to James.
“Did you alter the images?”
He smiles. “No. This is you. Pure and unadulterated. Can you see why I love you so much?”
I have no idea how to reply.
James takes his hand away from the laptop keyboard. The screen is still facing towards us, and I drag my eyes away from the woman on the display. “I only kept two pictures,” he says. “The second is my favourite. The close-up on your expression.”
His face is inches from mine now.
“Never, in all my time filming,” he says, “have I seen such layers of emotion distilled into one image. You have a beauty which is nothing short of decadent. It is all consuming. It is enchanting.”
I blink back into his eyes, heady with his view of me.
James reaches up and takes my face in his hands. “When I first filmed you, I was struck by your incredible eyes,” he murmurs. “And the truth you could show in them. But now I realise, it goes so much deeper. Your appearance is the tiniest factor in what makes you so beautiful.”
He kisses my mouth, and I feel my soul expanding towards him, drinking him in.
“You are courageous,” he says, between kisses, “you are lovely, and I can’t believe you are mine.”
“I love you,” I say, blinking away the tears which have sprung into my eyes.
“I love you too,” says James. “And now I’m going to answer your earlier question with one of my own. You asked whether I could deal with the press leak.” He nods to the camera. “Do you really think, there is anything I wouldn’t do for that incredible woman? Do you think I couldn’t move mountains to protect her?”
“Oh James.” I feel the insecurities rush out of me, and suddenly there is no danger. Only him. “I love you so much.”
James holds me tight, and I feel myself safe in his strong arms.
“So aren’t you going to tell me where we’re relocating to?” I ask, after a moment.
James smiles. “Yes. Filming has only brought the event forward. I had been meaning to take you there, in any case.”
“Take me where?”
“Can’t you guess?”
“No!” I bat his arm in annoyance.
“It’s a grand old country estate,” he says teasingly. “I think you’ll like it.”
James is grinning now. “We’ll all be flying to Berkeley Hall,” he says. “We’ll do some filming on the estate. The entire area is totally secure. And,” he adds, fixing me with his green eyes, “I’ll be able to take you to meet my parents.”
For our return flight to England, James has managed to arrange a private jet, which delights Natalie. Inside the aeroplane is absolutely incredible. The interior is arranged like an enormous, sumptuous living room. There are sofas, huge comfy seats, and a big movie screen.
James and I are keeping a tactful distance apart. So I share my enthusiasm with Callum and Will.
“It’s a pretty sweet ride,” agrees Will, taking off his sunglasses as he takes in the inside of the plane. “Maybe Mr Berkeley will give us a ride back to LA,” he adds, grinning at Callum.
The extras are being flown home on a later charter flight. I got a chance to say a last farewell to Lorna just before we headed our separate ways. I’m hoping that I’ll see her soon. But with the press leak looming over us, it’s difficult to know when.
The flight is uneventful, but as we’re dipping low to land, there’s a clear view of a huge manor house with miles of rolling estate grounds as far as the eye can see.
It’s absolutely enormous, and I realise that Berkeley’s father doesn’t just have an aristocratic title. He owns a very decent chunk of England.
The plane touches down on a private runway which backs onto the estate. And within minutes of disembarking, we’re transported to a small complex of cottages.
They’re in view of the enormous Berkeley Hall, but a fair way into the sumptuous grounds. And James takes it upon himself to show us personally to our rooms.
“It’s a little cosier than you’re used to,” he explains, taking in Natalie’s devastated face at the size of the buildings. “But the rooms are very luxurious inside.”
The accommodation is a charming selection of tiny converted cottages, each with plenty of classic English character.
“The crew will be located on another part of the estate,” adds James. “They’ll be nearer the filming, since they’re on set for the longest. Also,” he adds, “mobile phone reception is better over there.”
This strikes me as a consideration which few directors would afford their crew. And I’m reminded of what Callum said about James’s staff being loyal to him.
Natalie’s face twists. “There’s bad phone reception?”
James shrugs. “This is the countryside, Natalie. We only have one mast, which my stepmother lobbied for years to be installed. You can usually make phone calls, but they might be patchy.”
I’m wondering if this is part of James’s plan. Perhaps a lack of good reception will stop leaks getting out. But this can hardly be a long term plan.
I shrug the thought away, turning my attention to the accommodation.
Us actors each have a tiny cottage, and inside are bed and breakfast style rooms, finished to impeccable standard. They’ve been decorated to a five star finish, complete with designer sheets and fixtures.
“Ah, the English countryside!” announces Callum, opening the door to his cottage. “What could be finer?”
I can’t help but agree with him. Berkeley estate is astonishingly green and beautiful. It’s like being on a luxury retreat, rather than a filming shoot.
James leaves Callum, Natalie and Will instructions for where lunch will be served, and then steers me carefully away from the cottages.
“Where are we going?” I ask as he leads me to a pebbled path winding away from the actor’s accommodation.
“My parents have arranged a private lunch for us,” he says. “They are very eager to meet you.”
Meeting his parents. I can just about accept that Berkeley’s family are landed aristocracy. How do I feel about actually meeting them?
My attention turns, in panic, to my clothing. I’m dressed in a sixties style tunic dress, which is a little on the short side, and ballet pumps.
Should I have worn something different? I’m hardly dressed like Kate Middleton.
“You might have warned me,” I hiss. “What about my outfit?”
James chuckles. “You look beautiful,” he says, “what’s the problem?”
“But is it appropriate?” I insist. “I have no idea what to wear. Your father’s a lord.”
“And my stepmother is a lady,” murmurs James, “but they’re still human, underneath it all. Issy, you really have nothing to worry about. I’m proud to introduce you to my parents.”
He turns to face me. “You look lovely,” he says. “And besides. You’re the first girlfriend they’ve ever met. They are especially primed to like you.”
I’m the first girlfriend he’s introduced to his parents?
“Really? I am the first girl?” I ask, surprised. “Ever?”
“Ever.” James nods. “I was not on speaking terms with my father for a long period of my youth. And I never met a girl who I was serious enough about to introduce, in any case,” he adds.
“That makes it even more nerve-wracking,” I complain.
“Don’t be silly,” says James. “They are desperate to meet the girl who won my heart.”
I feel my own heart skip in response.
“So tell me about them,” I say cautiously, some of my reserve slipping.
“My stepmother took charge of the cottages,” explains James. “She never accepts anything less than the best, and she’s made them into a real working business. They rent out to tourists for very high sums.”
“She sounds very talented,” I say, wondering whether Lord Berkeley’s fifth wife has something the others don’t.
“She is,” replies James. “And she’s the only one of the bunch who could handle my father. She was an Ambassador for Lithuania. Very intelligent. Very determined. She’s had to put up with all the prejudice, all the snobbish English people, who hear her accent and think she’s an Eastern European gold-digger.”
He shakes his head.
“Really, she’s a marvel,” he says. “She also took Camilla in when her family had money problems. She paid for Camilla’s schooling and made sure she stayed connected to the right circles.”
The right circles. I guess that’s a concern of the landed rich.
“So I guess her and Camilla get on well?”
“Camilla adores her. My stepmother has a motto that family is family, whether it’s by birth or by law. She thinks of Camilla as her own flesh and blood.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting her,” I say.
“She’ll love you,” says James.
“And your father?” My anxieties about meeting a real lord are getting sharper.
“My father,” says James grimly, “will probably be besotted with you.”
We walk in silence for a moment, with nothing but birdsong from the surrounding trees. It really is beautiful here.
“When will we be able to go back to Berkeley Studios?” I find myself asking.
“I don’t know,” says James shortly. Then he seems to catch his tone and adjusts it.
“Soon, I hope,” he adds softly. “Madison has been out in London. We’re building a picture that she has a new romance. Once the papers have bought into that, their attention will be focused on her.”
“Then what happens?” I try and fail to keep the petulance out of my voice. I never realised that dating a famous guy would be so hard.
“In a few weeks, we’ll be off the hook,” he says. “There’ll certainly be a lot of interest in you, as a young and beautiful actress. It wouldn’t be right to announce our relationship whilst filming. But once the premiere is done, we’ll be free to tell who we like.”
Free to tell who we like. Somehow, that possibility seems so far away.
“Ok,” I say, trying for a smile.
“I’m sorry, it’s such a long time away,” says James. “Believe me, Issy, I hate keeping you under wraps like this. The time will pass quickly, I promise.”
That’s if we get a chance to finish the movie.
By my understanding, a press leak could still ruin everything.
The hall is firmly in sight now, and I can see the main doorway is open.
The manor is an enormous construction of red brick, with huge sweeping wings on either side.
“Time to meet the parents” James murmurs, resting a hand on the small of my back. “I hope you’re ready for this.”
“Ready as I’ll ever be,” I mutter.
As we near, two figures are waiting for us in the entrance. A small woman in her late fifties, with perfectly groomed blonde hair, I guess to be James’s stepmother.
She stands next to a tall man in brown cords and a tweed jacket, with silver grey hair.
“James!” the blonde woman steps forward and throws her small arms around him. Then she steps back and fixes me with a beaming smile.
“And you must be Isabella!” She looks utterly thrilled, and before I know what’s happening, she hugs me too, grasping my face and planting a determined kiss on each of my cheeks.
“I’m Eliza,” she says, throwing out her hand. I shake it, and her fingers enclose mine warmly.
Even though she’s small, she has an energy and strength about her which is palpable. Her accent is mild, but noticeably Eastern European. She wears a tweed skirt, with a cream blouse, which she’s accented with a few tasteful pieces of gold jewellery.
It’s a very traditional Lady of the Manor look, and I’m guessing she chose this style to fit in more readily with English culture.
James’s father is shaking his son’s hand. He rests another hand on top, in a gesture of affection. But it’s still a far cooler greeting than I would expect a father to give.
Then again, I know nothing about the aristocracy. Perhaps that’s standard.
“Isabella is it?” says Lord Berkeley, turning to me. “Delighted to meet you.”
I’ve never heard such an upper class accent, and I’m reeling from it, as James’s father steps forward and takes my hand.
He’s a tall man, which adds to his sense of presence, and he has green eyes, like James’s, which twinkle.
“What a lovely girl you are,” he says, enclosing my hand in his large fingers.
I feel myself blushing. Lord Berkeley’s features bear more than a passing resemblance to James’s. But where his son has a rugged crookedness to his face which I love, Lord Berkeley’s features are large and straight.
I can imagine he was handsome, as a younger man.
“Let the poor girl go,” laughs Eliza. “I’m sorry, Isabella, about a hundred years ago, you would have been just my husband’s type. And he’s forgetful, now that he’s so old.”
She’s beaming as she says this, and Lord Berkeley releases my hand and shakes with laughter. He glances at his wife, approvingly.
“Luckily, I have my wife to keep me in line,” he says.
“Won’t you come sit for dinner?” says Lady Berkeley. “You must be hungry. And we have a surprise guest for you.”
“You do?” asks James.
“Oh yes,” says Eliza. “I invited Camilla. Isn’t that nice? She hasn’t stopped talking about you Isabella. You must be some actress.”
We follow James’s father and stepmother into an enormous dining hall, which takes my breath away. The last time I saw a room like this, it was on a tour of Buckingham Palace.
It’s not so much luxurious, as grand. There are stuffed animal heads, placed high on the walls, and a huge table, which looks like it came from medieval times.
I’m trying to take it all in, wondering whether real people actually eat here with any kind of regularity.
“I’m so sorry for the décor,” says Eliza, welcoming us in. “David won’t let me decorate in here just yet. But I’m working on him. No one wants to eat with dead animals staring at them. And that table is like a great monolith, lurking there.”
Lord Berkeley smiles at this. “This table has been in our family ten generations,” he says to me. “It was given to Lord Berkeley by King Charles for his loyalty in the Civil War.”
“Don’t bore her with your family history,” says Lady Berkeley. “Isabella, he’s trying to impress you my dear. Just ignore him.”
Once again, Lord Berkeley looks delighted, and I realise he enjoys his wife’s playful banter.
“Please sit,” says Lady Berkeley. “Ah,” she adds, “here comes Camilla.”
“Issy!” I turn to see Camilla beaming at me with delight. “It’s so great to see you!” She rushes towards me and flings her arms around me.
“It’s good to see you too!” I hug her back. It’s great to have her back.
Despite the formal surroundings, Camilla is dressed in a pink maxi dress with spaghetti straps and converse trainers.
I feel instantly more at ease with my own outfit. Maybe this isn’t going to be as hard as I thought.
We sit for lunch, and between Camilla’s lively chatter and Lady Berkeley’s keen sense of humour, it’s a far less formal affair than I feared. In fact, I’m really enjoying myself.
The food arrives, and we have asparagus soup, followed by trout, which James’s father proudly explains was caught on the estate that morning.
Lady Berkeley disappears to dig out some family photos, and Camilla takes the opportunity to tuck in a little closer to me and drops her voice.
“Is everything ok on set, Issy?” she asks. “Some of the crew told me there’d been some issues with leaks to the press.”
She glances to where James and his father are sitting to check they can’t hear. But they’re deep in their own conversation.
“Yeah.” I sigh. “James says he’s taking care of it. I think that’s part of the reason we’re filming here now. But he won’t tell me why.”
“Oh, he’ll never tell anything!” says Camilla, continuing to keep her voice low. She glances at James and his father again, to satisfy herself they’re not listening. “It’s maddening,” she adds.
I notice that James looks relaxed and happy talking to his father.
I wonder how long it took them to be on speaking terms.
I remember what Ben told me. That when James was a drug user, his father had made it clear he wasn’t welcome at Berkeley Hall.
Between being blamed for his mother’s death and being sent to boarding school, I would imagine that relations with his father would be permanently strained. But it looks as though they get on.
I return my attention to Camilla. Maybe now is the time to ask about Ben.
“Listen,” I say, “I hope you don’t mind my asking, Cam. I thought that Ben Gracey might know something about the leak. But James seems to think he has some hold over Ben. Do you know anything about that?”
I see Camilla’s cheeks turn pink, and I instantly regret asking.
Then she sighs and rests her hand on mine.
“Ok, look, don’t tell anyone,” she says, looking at me, pleadingly. “Remember I told you Ben and I had a romance gone wrong?”
She closes her eyes, as though the memory is painful.
“It was a little more than that.”
I squeeze her fingers, letting her know I feel for her.
“Ben Gracey,” she says, with a long sigh. “I wish I’d never met him.”
Camilla shakes her head, and a strand of her mussed blonde hair falls over her features.
“I was barely sixteen when we met,” she continues. “I was at an event organised by Lady Berkeley. Ben was older, and handsome. And of course I had a little crush. But I never thought anything of it, until Ben started pursuing me.”
I make a silent calculation in my head. As I figure it, Ben must have been at least ten years older than Camilla.
“Lady Berkeley was taking care of me,” continues Camilla. “So Ben assumed that I was from a moneyed family. Because I had access to the debutante events.”
“But you weren’t?” I ask. I always assumed Camilla was old money.
She shakes her head. “My father has a title. But he also had a gambling problem, when I was younger. Our estate was almost broken up and sold. It was only down to the Berkeley’s help that we still have it.” She raises an eyebrow. “Even though it’s mortgaged up to the hilt,” she adds.
“Ben said all the right things, made all the romantic gestures,” she says. “I was straight out of an all girl’s school. To me, it was like a fairy tale come true. And I fell head over heels.”
She looks down at the table and pauses for a moment.
“Ben assumed, if he seduced me, that my parents would pressure me to marry him,” she continues in a quiet little voice. She shakes her head. “My parents might be titled, but they would never expect me to marry a man just because I’d lost my virginity to him.”
“But you loved Ben?” I guess.
“Yes,” Camilla nods. “I fell really hard. Lucky for me, James found out what was going on, before anything happened. He confronted Ben. Told him to back off. Ben refused.”
Camilla sighs again. “I hated James, at the time,” she admits. “I thought Ben and I were in love, and James was coming between us.” Her hand squeezes mine, and she swallows.
“Then James offered Ben money,” she says, “to leave me. I never, in a million years, thought Ben would accept. But he did.”
Her blue eyes flicker to mine, and I see the real pain there.
“That’s when I knew,” she says. “That James had been right about Ben all along. I was heartbroken. I had this dream that Ben was The One, and my first time would be perfect. Pretty silly, I guess.”
I take both her hands, keeping my voice low.
“You listen to me, Cam,” I say. “Nothing you did was stupid or silly. Ben Gracey is a pathetic liar who will get what’s coming to him.”
Camilla gives me a faint smile.
“I just wish I didn’t feel it all so strongly,” she admits, her eyes sweeping mine.
“You just wait,” I tell her, “when the right man comes along, you’ll be glad of that open heart of yours. Ben is closed up, and broken. And he’ll never know happiness like you will.”
Camilla’s fingers are still holding mine.
“Thanks, Issy,” she whispers. Her eyes are bright.
“You’ll find someone amazing,” I add.
“I really hope so,” she says.
“I know so,” I say, determinedly. “You’ll see.”
Lady Berkeley returns to the room, clutching a photo album, and Camilla shrieks with sudden delight.
“Oh my God!” she gasps. “You have to see these, Issy. There are some of James in there. He is sooo cute.”
She grabs the album from a smiling Lady Berkeley.
“James!” calls Camilla. “Eliza’s brought the pictures out.”
James turns to us.
“Oh no.” He’s shaking his head. “You can’t show her that. She’ll leave me.”
“Oh no, she won’t,” says Eliza. “You were the cutest little boy. I just wish I had been around then to see it.” Something in her expression looks sad, and I wonder how much she knew about James and his father’s history.
“Here we are,” Camilla is saying. She flips open the album, and the first picture is a grainy shot of a baby in a flowing christening gown.
“Baby James,” announces Camilla. “Wearing a dress.”
She turns the page, and the next shot is of a little boy, aged three or so. He’s holding the hand of an exotic-looking woman, who must be his mother. And the background contains palm trees, so I’m guessing the picture was taken in Mauritius.
My eyes settle on James’s face. His green eyes are alive, delighted. Even though he’s so young, I can still see a little of his personality. It reminds me of our time together in the Barcelona park, when he was so happy and carefree.
I feel myself smiling. Then James is at my shoulder, leaning over at the shot.
“Is that your mother?” I ask, pointing at the woman in the shot.
“Yes.” His voice is full of happy sentiment.
“She’s beautiful,” I murmur, taking in the large brown eyes and lustrous sweep of dark hair.
Camilla leans forward and flips the page. And the next shot is of James, standing alone, in a starched-looking school uniform. He can hardly be much older than seven, and I can see instantly something is very wrong.
It’s not the same happy boy from the previous picture.
He’s like a different child.
“James looks really grumpy,” comments Camilla, frowning.
But I can see, it’s so much worse than that. He looks… damaged. Broken. It’s awful to see, in such a young child. Looking at the picture, I feel like my heart is being torn in half.
I turn up to look at James, my face a question. But he looks away.
“It always seemed strange to me,” I hear Lady Berkeley say, “the English tradition of sending boys to board so young. And in such adult uniforms.”
I hear disapproval in her voice, and I can tell that she’s seen it too. This terrible change.
“Here,” adds Lady Berkeley, leaning forward. “Let’s see some happy photos. Isabella. Let me show you some pictures of James after his first big movie success. He looks pleased as punch,” she adds, pronouncing the colloquialism carefully in her Eastern European accent.
After lunch, James takes me for a walk around the house and grounds, and I find myself marvelling at how much of England is owned by his family.
He shows me his plain childhood bedroom, and a library where he used to read. But overall, I am struck by how much this wasn’t his home growing up.
“What was boarding school like?” I ask, thinking back to the picture of the distraught little boy in a high collar.
“Cold,” says James shortly. “In every way. The master’s main aim was to crush excess emotion out of us. I was behind the other boys, so I took a lot more schooling. Mainly, that meant being hit with canes.”
I feel my heart go out to him.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
“Don’t be,” he replies, and I feel as though a wall has come down.
We wander through the next few rooms in silence.
“Are you due to inherit this?” I ask as we move through into a huge corridor.
It’s dawning on me that as the only son, James could become Lord Berkeley.
“I wasn’t,” he murmurs. “My father had me written out. But my stepmother persuaded him to reverse it a few years ago.”
I squeeze his arm. The memory is obviously painful.
“So you’ll be Lord Berkeley?” I manage tentatively. It seems an incredible idea.
James turns his green eyes on mine.
“Officially, yes. Although it is possible to give up your title. Lords have to attend the House of Lords, to vote on politics. Those duties might be difficult to fit around my movies.”
I decide not to question him on it further. We’re at a huge window now, on the second floor. I let my eyes run over the yawning distance of green hills and forest.
“So where does the estate end?” I ask.
“We can’t see the end of it from here.”
“It’s a big estate,” I venture.
“Yes.” He points into the middle distance. “That’s where we’ll be filming later.”
“How much later?” It’s occurring to me that our time together could be over soon, and I want to relish every second.
“Quite soon,” says James. “But we’ll have more time together later.”
He smiles at me, and I sense his earlier mood has passed.
His eyes flash wickedly. “We’ve got a few more days here,” he says, “and I’ve got so much more to show you.”
“Oh really?” I raise my eyebrows at his tone. “Like what?”
“Like…” James turns me gently and presses me back against the window, his hands press my arms against my sides. “The stables,” he says, leaning in to kiss me, his voice low. “Plenty of whips and riding crops.”
His hand slips to beneath my dress. I feel my body jolt with lust.
“And of course, we have cornfields,” he adds. “Lots of hay to roll around in.”
His hand slides up the inside of my thigh, and I feel my breath tighten.
“In fact,” he decides, “I think you’re going to like the Berkeley Estate, very much.”
His fingers inches further up my skirt, and I move my hand to his wrist.
“Stop,” I whisper, “not here.”
His eyes search my face.
“I’m still dealing with being a lunch date of the Lord and Lady of the Manor,” I say apologetically. “One thing at a time.”
James slides his hand out from under my skirt and kisses me.
“Anything you say,” he says with a mock little bow. “But Issy, you’ve adapted so quickly to my other little ways, I’m sure it won’t take you long to get comfortable with my family home.”
He’s grinning at me, and I can’t help but grin back.
Then his phone sounds.
Frowning, he takes it out of his pocket.
I see his face drop, and instantly, the atmosphere changes.
“What is it?” I whisper, frightened by his sudden shift of expression.
James lowers the phone, and I see him swallow.
He looks for a moment, as though he’s considering whether to tell me. And then he speaks.
“It seems as though someone has tried to open private files on my computer,” he says. His voice is deadly serious.
“What do you mean?” My voice comes out as a barely a whisper.
“Someone has accessed my laptop remotely,” he says. “I can’t imagine it would be anyone else but the person leaking to the press.”
He runs his hands through his hair. “In theory, they could have opened almost anything.” His eyes drill me with the significance of this. “Which means,” he continues, “the photos I took of you could have been found. Even copied.”
His face is ashen.
I feel the world sliding away from me.
James is shaking his head.
“It was stupid of me,” he mutters, “I had so much to arrange, I didn’t check the security of the internet connection here. Someone got through on the WiFi.”
“But we don’t know for sure?” I press. “I mean, they might not have seen anything at all.”
From what I remember, there were a lot of files on James’s computer.
“Do you know how long they had access for?” I add.
James is shaking his head in frustration. “Not more than a few minutes,” he says. “The security on my laptop shut them down and alerted my phone.”
A little of my anxiety slips away.
“Then surely the chance is small?” I venture. “That they would have even seen those pictures. Let alone copied them?”
James’s face is like thunder. “Yes. The chance is small. Very small,” he says. “But even the smallest chance that those photos might be seen is completely unacceptable.”
James looks absolutely furious.
“We’re going to close this leak down. Now,” he says. The determination in his voice is intimidating.
He punches a few keys on his phone, and then turns to me.
“First, I’m going to make sure absolutely no information can leave Berkeley Hall,” he says. “Then, I’m going to resolve this leak.”
“You’ll need to go back to your cottage,” he adds. The distraction in his voice feels almost painful to me, in contrast to his earlier affection.
“I’m sorry,” he adds, seeing the distress on my face. “I’m just angry at myself, Issy, that I could ever have put you at such risk.”
“Don’t be…” I start to say, but he dismisses my words with a wave of his hand.
Ouch. I guess now is not the time to try and talk him down.
“You’ll need to head back to the actor’s accommodation,” he repeats. “I’ve changed the timings for today. And I don’t want people to see us arrive from the same direction.”
“What’s happening now?” I ask.
“I’ve scheduled an earlier meeting,” he says. “Everyone. All the cast, the crew, are due on the grounds in twenty minutes. We’re going to find out once and for all who is behind this leak.”
I head back to the cottages with everything that’s happening churning in my head.
Berkeley Hall is a reasonable distance away, so I’m walking fast. I’m guessing all the actors have already received the call and are long gone ahead.
I near the cottages, wondering if I’m close enough to complete the charade that James and I weren’t at lunch together. And I’m just about to turn and take the path towards the meeting, when I see Carol.
She’s talking on her phone, and from what I can make out, she’s headed towards my cottage.
What’s Carol doing here? Natalie’s cottage is on the other side.
I watch her carefully. Something about her manner is completely different to usual.
I’m used to seeing Carol running around after Natalie, like a dogsbody. But now, she looks upright, confident and full of self-assurance.
I can’t hear what she’s saying, but the tone of her voice is different too. It positively rings with authority, like an executive doing business.
What a transformation. Is it just because Natalie isn’t around?
Carol reaches the door of my cottage.
Then she slows, looks left, right. And then straight in my direction.
I’m frozen to the spot, and she stares at me. Her face flashes with guilt.
We both stand for a moment, like rabbits caught in the headlights. And then I break the deadlock and breeze towards her, aiming to appear as though I think nothing is out of the ordinary.
“Carol. Hi,” I say, walking towards her and aiming for a casual tone. “Did you need me for something?”
My mind is whirling, trying to catch up with what I’ve just seen. Was she about to go into my cottage?
“Oh, hello, Issy. I’m arranging some things for Natalie.”
As she speaks, Carol seems to collapse into her old subordinate self. Her shoulders sag, and her voice quavers a little.
“Ok. I’m just picking up a sweater.” I walk past her and push open the door to my cottage.
I’m keeping my voice light, but we both know I’ve seen something I shouldn’t.
“Yes, it is a lot cooler in England than Barcelona,” replies Carol. She waves her hand. “I’ll see you later, Isabella.”
As I duck into my cottage, my heart is pounding.
What does this mean? Was she snooping for information? Is Carol the leak?
I have no real evidence to suspect her. But I’ve no other reason to attribute to her strange behaviour either.
I grab a sweater, trying to work through what I’ve seen. It occurs to me suddenly, that if Carol is the leak, she could even be dangerous. What if she’s waiting outside for me, desperate to make sure I don’t report her suspicious behaviour?
I take out my mobile phone. No reception. Damn. My previous affection for the countryside evaporates instantly. I can’t call James and tell him what I’ve seen.
I stare at the cottage door for a long moment, before deciding I don’t have a choice.
I can’t cower in here indefinitely. Taking a deep breath, I open the door and step out quickly.
Outside is green lawns, stone cottages, and nothing else. Carol seems to have completely vanished.
Momentarily relieved, I set off at a jog for the meeting place. I need to tell James about what I just saw. As soon as possible.
By the time I arrive, James has already gathered everyone together and begun speaking.
Crap. I can hardly interrupt him.
I try and calm myself. James told you Berkeley Estate was secure. It’s not like press can get in here.
This makes me feel slightly better. When James has finished speaking, I can tell him about Carol’s suspicious behaviour.
“Thank you all for coming at short notice,” James is saying.
The crew and actors make up around thirty people, and I see that Natalie is one of them. Carol isn’t here.
I catch sight of Callum and Will, but they’re too near the front for me to join. The hair and make-up girls are also in the group. And I recognise David, the props handler.
“I’m sure by now,” adds James, “you know what’s been going on.”
There is an uncomfortable shifting, in the atmosphere of the assembled people. I hear some whisper words like ‘leak’ and ‘press’.
“Someone has been calling the press with information,” continues James. “And the information they are supplying could be very damaging. To all of us.”
His eyes flare at this last part, and then his voice softens.
“I don’t need to tell most of you that you are a family to me,” he continues. “We have worked together for years. And I truly value you. I can hardly believe that someone would betray that trust.”
A hush descends on the group.
“I know that whoever is responsible is here in front of me now,” continues James.
They might not be! I want to scream. Ask Natalie where Carol is!
James catches my eye, and I see a flicker of confusion pass over his handsome features.
“I’m not asking you to confess in front of everyone,” he continues. “But I do ask, that whoever is making these leaks, is decent enough to tell me.”
His green eyes are full of sincerity.
“I value each and every one of you,” he says. “And I ask that whoever has made the leaks, understand that they’re jeopardising a lot for everyone here.”
He looks down at his hands for a moment, and then back at the group.
“Thank you,” he concludes. “We’ll now have an actor’s meeting as planned. Anyone who wants to talk can find me afterwards.”
As soon as James is finished talking, the small crowd begins talking animatedly amongst themselves. I wonder what effect James’s words had. Certainly, it seems as though the crew feel real loyalty to him.
Many look positively furious that someone is leaking to the press.
I move determinedly towards him. I want to run. But I can’t risk that I might look suspiciously over familiar.
As I approach, I see that Will is already talking to James, and I have to wait a maddening few moments for their conversation to end.
Then Will drifts away, and I move quickly towards James.
“Issy?” James lowers his voice. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s Carol,” I hiss, breathlessly. “Natalie’s assistant. I saw her snooping around my cottage. I think she could be the leak.”
James’s face darkens.
“When did you see this?”
“Just now. Just before this meeting.”
James’s face sets sternly.
“Thank you for telling me,” he says, after a moment. “We have the actor’s meeting now, Issy. I’d be grateful if you would join the others in the ballroom as planned.”
“But…” I am baffled by his tone. Is he going to track Carol down?
“I’ll be with you shortly,” he adds, firmly.
I open my mouth, and shut it again. Maybe this is all part of some master plan. I don’t know. So I’ve no alternative but to seek out Callum and drift towards the actor’s meeting place.
“Do you think the leak will reveal themselves?” asks Callum as we navigate the corridors to find the large ballroom.
“I don’t know,” I say. “The crew seem very loyal to James. But then again, whoever’s leaking has already proved themselves disloyal.”
“I thought it was rather touching,” says Callum, “that James is asking for the leak to consult their own conscience. It’s an old fashioned approach, for sure,” he adds. “But it’s the mark of James, as a man, that he would try that route.”
I’m considering this as we enter the ballroom. It might be a testimony to James’s character, but I don’t know how effective it will be in uncovering the leak.
To our great surprise, Natalie is already seated inside. She looks frail and vulnerable in the enormous room. And once again, I feel myself entertain feelings other than annoyance towards her.
“Hey, Natalie,” I say, waving my hand.
“Hey,” she replies.
Callum and I take our seats. And we all sit in troubled silence.
It’s only a few moments later when James joins us. And the speed of his arrival makes me doubt whether he took my information seriously.
Has he tried to track Carol down?
“I hope we can all get through this session,” James says, “despite the situation surrounding it.” His eyes flicker for a moment.
“In the next hour or so, we’re going to be exploring ourselves as people. We’ll be looking at the roles we all play in everyday life.”
I’m finding it hard to follow James. And I can tell Natalie and Callum feel the same. We’re all thinking, wondering, whether the leak really will be revealed.
“We’ll be doing the same strategy as before,” says James, “of writing down personality traits on paper and placing them in a bag. Then I’ll pull them out, and we’ll discuss. Ok?”
He looks at us all expectantly, but the mood of the group is so fragmented, he hardly gets a response.
“We’ll just get through this,” he says, “and then perhaps we can talk about the press situation. I appreciate you must all be anxious about the future. But believe me. This movie will go ahead.”
I see something like anxiety in Callum’s eyes, and I realise he doesn’t necessarily believe this.
James stands and hands out slips of paper.
“Think of a personality trait which applies to you,” he says, “then write it out as ‘I am’.” His eyes rest on me. “It might be ‘I am brave’,” he adds, “or ‘I am loyal’.”
Callum and Natalie take their slips. But I can tell their hearts are hardly in it. I stare at my own for a moment before scrawling down: ‘I am a good friend.’
Slowly, we all return our slips to the bag.
Then James shakes it and pulls out the first piece of paper.
He stops short, his eyes widening. Then his gaze rests on Callum.
“I have the first paper here,” he says carefully. “It says: I am the press leak.”
I feel my mouth drop open in clean amazement. Callum? Callum is leaking to the press. I simply don’t believe it.
But then I see James’s gaze switch to Natalie.
And as we all turn to look, her green eyes fill with tears.
Natalie? Natalie was the leak?
“It was you?” asks Callum in disbelief. “You were leaking to the press, Natalie?”
“I am so sorry,” she whispers. “Truly.” Her gaze switches to me, and I am overwhelmed by the loneliness in her face. “Please forgive me, Issy,” she whispers.
I turn to see Callum is every bit as shocked as I am. James looks stern, yet considered.
“But how could it be you?” I manage, after a long silence. “I was with you when the first leak happened.”
Natalie is shaking her head, and tears fall from her cheeks.
“I had my back to you,” she says. “I was walking away. I had enough time to send a text message. That’s all I needed to do.”
I am reeling from the shock of all this.
“I didn’t think you knew anything,” I say, finally.
Natalie manages a weak smile.
“I’m a good actress.”
She sure is.
“I’m not as dumb as people think,” she adds. “Of course I knew. I saw you both together in your chalet.”
“But, why Natalie?” The anger and betrayal is loading up now. “Why would you do it? You could have ruined things for everyone. Including yourself,” I add.
Natalie looks down at the floor. She begins picking coral coloured varnish from her thumbnail.
“Because I’m sick,” she whispers. “I’m not well. It’s become like an addiction for me. I’ve been working on it. But I lapsed.”
Her expression is pleading.
“I get kind of a thrill,” she says, “when my message goes through, and the press are all desperate to get in touch.” She swallows visibly. “Then it’s over, and I feel awful,” she says with a strange little smile. “Worse than awful. And I realise I’ve hurt people. And ruined things.”
My gaze drifts over to James. What is he making of all this?
“Natalie is getting help, for her addiction,” he says. “Her assistant Carol is an expert therapist. According to her reports, Natalie has made good progress.”
“Carol is Natalie’s therapist?” I can’t keep the amazement from my voice.
James nods. “Natalie is very ashamed of her issues. We agreed that she would need a therapist with her whilst filming, but that her identity could be hidden.”
“But… what was Carol doing, snooping around near my cottage?” I ask.
Callum starts in surprise at this. Natalie starts picking her nail varnish again.
“Carol was making sure it was secure,” answers James. “So your cottage wouldn’t present a temptation for Natalie.”
I am struggling to take this all in.
“You knew about this all along?” I ask James. I can’t keep the accusation from my voice.
James shakes his head. “I didn’t know Natalie was leaking information. Though I always had my suspicions. Since we arrived at Berkeley Hall, I was able to confirm them. With the private phone mast we have here, I was able to keep track of where calls were being made.”
Natalie is biting her lip. I glance at Callum. He looks in total shock.
“And when my computer was accessed, I knew it was time to force the issue,” adds James. “But I hoped that Natalie would do the decent thing,” he adds. “Which I think she has.”
“Natalie was also embarrassed about her need for medication,” adds James. “It helps with her addictive urges. But unfortunately, her need to hide it meant she didn’t always take it regularly.”
“I always have people around me,” says Natalie, looking down. “It’s not always easy to take it without people seeing. I’m doing much better now,” she adds, looking up with sincerity.
“The question is,” says James carefully. “Can you forgive Natalie for what she’s done?”
I look at Callum. This is unexpected.
“What do you mean exactly?” asks Callum.
“I mean,” says James, “Natalie has admitted what she’s done. She’s sorry for it. And she can hardly carry on doing it. Not now we all know.”
He folds his hands and looks at us carefully.
“In my opinion,” says James, “Natalie could be forgiven her mistake. She could be allowed to continue filming with us.”
Natalie visibly flinches at this. It was obviously unexpected.
“But,” says James, looking at Natalie, “if Callum or Isabella would rather I cast someone new, then I will respect those wishes.”
Natalie’s face falls. She looks like a woman condemned. This is her last chance, I remember, to work on a big picture. She’s been so much trouble to directors, she’d have difficulty getting another role. Particularly if she’s thrown out of Berkeley’s movie halfway through filming.
Callum clears his throat to speak. He’s never liked Natalie. I guess this is his chance to get rid of her. I can hardly blame him. Her actions have been appalling.
“I’m happy,” says Callum carefully, “for Natalie to continue acting with us.”
I hear Natalie take a sharp breath.
Callum shrugs and looks at Natalie.
“I’ve been the addiction route myself,” he says, “and I’ve messed up worse than most people can imagine. I certainly wouldn’t be here if people hadn’t taken chances on me.”
He grins at Natalie. “Don’t make me regret it,” he says with a wink.
Natalie’s face is a picture. It’s frozen in a bizarre mix of shock and joy.
“Thank you,” she whispers. “I would never let you down, Callum.”
I realise, suddenly, that they’re all looking at me.
And no matter what Natalie has done, I just couldn’t find it in myself to hold a grudge. She looks bent, broken, and all I want to do is give her a hug.
“Of course, I forgive you,” I hear myself saying.
“Really?” Natalie’s eyes snap towards me in shock.
I smile. “Yes.”
Suddenly, Natalie is smiling back.
“Are you serious?”
“Yes, I am totally serious,” I say. “Besides, I like acting with you.”
“I also forgive you, Natalie,” James says. “But it is on several provisos.”
Natalie sits upright, like a school girl paying attention in class.
“Firstly, I want you to continue therapy with Carol,” says James. “And secondly, I want Carol to take charge of your medication. See that you take it for as long as you need it.”
Natalie is nodding slowly.
James smiles. “If you can agree to that,” he says mildly, “then I think we have a movie to make.”
Sunlight is streaming down on the Berkeley Estate as the final cameras are wheeled into position.
Lighting rigs are already in place, and the scattering of crew are striding around purposefully, making the final adjustments.
Callum and I have emerged from hair and make-up and are awaiting the call to action.
Natalie is already waiting on set. Our forgiveness seems to have brought out the best in her. She’s been punctual, professional, and personable since we arrived back on set.
“Hi.” She waves at us shyly, and then looks away. I guess it will take some time before she’s no longer embarrassed with us. But I feel certain she’ll come around.
The word on set is that the press leak confessed and was given a second chance by James.
“And that,” observes Callum as we discuss what the crew have been told, “was a genius move.”
“Why?” I ask.
“Because James is letting the crew know that he not only values loyalty,” says Callum, “but that he commands it. They’ll love him all the more now.”
Watching the crew perform their duties, I have to agree with him. If the staff were determined and efficient before, they’re even more so today.
Callum leaves my side to go talk with Natalie. Since neither of them is due to act in this first scene.
This scene. I feel the script in my hand tremble. I’ve read it so many times. And my nerves are finally starting to be replaced with excitement.
There’s a ripple in the atmosphere on set, and without even turning, I know James has arrived.
“Hello, Issy.” I hear him behind me and turn. His green eyes rest gently on mine.
“Hello,” I reply.
“Ready for our first scene?” he asks softly.
I have crazy butterflies in my stomach. But I realise I’ve been waiting for this moment since we started filming. Perhaps since we first met.
“Yes,” I reply.
He’s looking at me more intently now.
“Do you remember your first audition with me?” he asks. “When we performed Shakespeare?”
I smile. “Of course I do.”
“I wanted you so badly at that audition, Issy.”
“And now you’ve got me.”
We’re both staring into each other’s eyes, smiling.
“Time to take our places then,” says James.
A garden scene has been set up, with the cameras surrounding an enormous oak tree. James and I will be standing in front. Our characters are due an impassioned conversation.
The idea is that my character Grace will find out more about his character Tom in this scene.
As I drift to my spot, next to the ancient tree, I find myself wondering whether the same will hold true for James and I.
Will I find out more about him as we act together? Something tells me I will.
“Lights!” calls the cameraman.
A circle of subdued lights flash on, and I turn to James, who has taken his place opposite me. He doesn’t seem to mind that he’s not calling the shots today.
“Cameras!” comes the call.
From my position, directly in front of the cameras, I see various red lights blink into life.
James is staring at me, and I feel my love for him leap high in my heart. This is going to be fun, maybe. Fun and challenging. Which just about sums up life with Mr Berkeley.
I smile to myself, and I see a little look of puzzlement on his face. As though he’s wondering what the joke is. Maybe I’ll tell him later. For now, I just want to see him act.
The clapperboard snaps, and James and I launch into our roles.
Wait! It ends there? I need more Spotlight!
If you’re dying to know what happens to James and Issy, don’t worry. It’s not long to wait until the next book.
The final novel in the series, The Final Act, will launch in August 2013.
Shhh! Want details of a SECRET PRE-LAUNCH where you can bag The Final Act for only $0.99?
Click here. You’ll be sent the date for the release AND a secret scene from Natalie’s past that not even James or Issy know!
You’ll also be given access to reader resources, which include pictures of the underwear and toys given to Isabella in this book.
Looking for a hot read to enjoy whilst you’re waiting for the sequel? Pageturners recommends The Ivy Lessons. Click here to read a sample.
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ABOUT JS TAYLOR
Jennifer Sarah Taylor won her first story-writing competition aged eight and has never looked back. In adult life she discovered it was much easier to make men do what she wanted in fiction than in the real-world.
So she’s been forcing her male characters to make romantic gestures ever since. As an avid Fifty Shades fan, she was delighted to discover the world was ready for hotter love-scenes. She humbly hopes her readers enjoy reading the Spotlight Series as much as she loved writing it.
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Chapter 1 “Natalie!” I race out of the chalet, letting the door slam behind me. Part of me is frightened at what she may have just seen. Another part is furious. Natalie has made things difficult since she arrived. What business did she have, spying through my chalet window? The idea of what she may have deduced is racing through my mind. Natalie is walking away, towards her own chalet. Her back is to me, and she doesn’t change her pace, as though she hasn’t heard me. My mental images whirl over how James and I might have appeared. Director and actress. Alone together in my chalet. “Natalie!” I shout after her more forcefully, breaking into a faster stride. This time she noticeably picks up the pace. She’s heard me then. But she’s pretending she hasn’t. I call her again, and when she doesn’t answer, I sprint the last few paces towards her and grab her tiny wrist. I use more force than I mean to, and Natalie whirls around in alarm. Her eyes glance anxiously to where my hand is holding her arm. “Why didn’t you stop?” I ask, letting her wrist drop from my hand. She looks a little frightened, but doesn’t reply. “What were you doing?” I demand, “looking through my window?” I don’t bother to disguise the anger in my voice, and Natalie’s eyes blink in confusion. “There’s no need to get so mad,” she manages finally. “I just wanted to know what got loaded into your chalet.” I stare at her. “What?” “There was a big truck,” she says. “Outside your chalet. Earlier today. I wanted to see what you had delivered.” A big truck? I let the words compute. James had filled my chalet with flowers. Likely they needed a large vehicle to drop them off. “What business is it of yours?” I say, still angry. Steady, Isabella. Keep your temper in check. After the last few days, I’ve reached the end of my patience with Natalie. But I realise I’m treading a dangerous path. If she’s figured out James and I are involved, I need to stay friendly. It’s my only chance of stopping her running to the press. “I mean,” I add, aiming for a kinder tone, “you’ve got plenty of nice things in your own chalet. Why the interest in mine?” Amazingly, this seems to strike a chord with Natalie. She lets out a sigh. “I didn’t realise you and I were so similar,” she says, her cute beach-bunny lilt coming to the fore. “I like to decorate my own place too. We should be able to have expensive things delivered. James shouldn’t be trying to stop us.” Natalie pouts and tosses her hair. Her mouth twists. “I know you’re mad because you’re embarrassed,” she adds.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?