Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Beyond the Book: Return Engagement
“Stop it!” Elizabeth cried. She scrambled off the bed and
put as much distance as possible between them. “It’s over,
Richard! No, don’t shake your head at me. I mean it.” Her
face blazed with color. “We have to end this, or I’ll be exactly
what the tabloids called me. I can’t, I won’t, live with that.”
Chest heaving, Richard struggled for self-control as he
faced Elizabeth across the bed, distracted by her beautiful
blue eyes and disheveled dark hair. What did the sleazy, tabloid
press matter? They loved each other; why did she panic
over a few nasty stories?
“Honey, you’re an actress,” he soothed, his voice velvety
soft and persuasive. “The tabloids won’t leave you alone no
matter what you do. Half the stuff they print is lies anyway.
Why are you letting them scare you?”
She stared at him with eyes stretched wide. “You’re seventeen
years old! In California you’re still a minor, and I’m
an adult. They have a right to accuse me of cradle robbing!
Don’t you know how many people agree with them?” Her voice dropped. “And that includes my mother and your parents. They’re so mad at us it scares me.”
Richard ignored the fact that his father’s reaction had
scared him too. “You talk like you’re fifty,” he scoffed, “but
you’re only five years older than me. You know it doesn’t
matter.” He lunged for her hand, but Elizabeth danced away
“It may matter to your career. Have you forgotten Senator
Lovinggood’s plans for you? Your dad wants you to be the
president one day, but a scandal like this could ruin your
chances before you even get started.”
Richard impatiently shook his head. “Don’t you get it?
You’re more important to me than any career in the world!
Without you I don’t care what happens to me.” His eyes softened.
“We fell in love with each other the first time we met
in the studio. Why would you even consider letting five lousy
years ruin things for us?”
Elizabeth dropped her head and bit her lip to hold back
her tears. “I know what I have to do, but why does it have
to hurt so much?” she whispered so low that Richard barely
heard her. She raised her eyes to his. “I love you, Richard,
but we can’t keep our hands off each other. It’s only a matter
of time until we do sleep together.” She made a sound
somewhere between a laugh and a sob. “If we do sleep together
I’ll deserve everything they’ve said about me.
Please, please go.”
For a moment the issue hung in the balance. The air in
the room which already shimmered with emotion now started to sizzle,
but with an exclamation of surrender Richard bent
and scooped his shirt from the floor. “I’ll call you.”
Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears. “No, please don’t. It’s
over; don’t you see?”
Ten Years Later
Richard Lovinggood often whistled as he walked the halls
of the Los Angeles field office of the FBI, but today he
sounded especially cheerful. Vacation time had finally arrived,
bringing with it the prospect of a whole week of glorious
freedom. Fields, his boss, had worked his fingers to the bone
while as usual his father had had plenty for him to do.
Senator Lovinggood constantly planned for Richard’s future
presidential campaign. For one thing, he insisted his son
be on a first name basis with influential politicians who might
be of use to him when he finally ran for the presidency. Richard
grimaced. Some of the politicians were okay, but most
of them bored him. Yeah, he needed a break.
He had to admit, though, that sometimes his father knew
interesting people. Take that guy he and Senator Lovinggood
had dined with last week. Mr. Ridges was descended from
the Russian czars. Talking to him had seemed like having a
page in your history book come alive, and Richard loved history.
But he didn’t care for the man’s daughter, Sheila. He
made a face. If he had known she would accompany her father,
he would’ve skipped dinner. Sheila, a stunning blonde
beauty, thought her royal blood made her better than everyone
else. She didn’t mind letting you know it either. Dad can
sing her praises all he wants to, thought Richard, but I’ve got no
interest in her. I don’t have time to waste on snobs like Sheila Ridges.
As he reached for the door that opened into the parking
garage, he heard a voice calling, “Hey, Richard, wait up.” The
voice belonged to his best friend, Scott Miller. The two of
them had been fast friends ever since they met at the FBI
training academy in Virginia.
“It isn’t fair for you to have a week off when I have to
work,” Scott complained as he joined Richard.
“I need a break. Between Dad and Fields I’m worn out.”
Scott laughed. “I can believe that. Just thinking about
your father wears me out. What are you going to do next
“You mean after I wake up at ten?” Richard teased.
“Nothing much. Remember I told you I bought a new horse?
He needs some work, so I’ll probably spend a lot of time at
the stable. His name is Too Bold, and it suits him.”
Scott shook his head in mock anguish. “Sometimes I
wonder about you. Those wild horses you like are nicer under
the hood of a car.”
Richard rolled his eyes at Scott. “That shows what you
know. Come riding with me, and you’ll see why I love it.”
“Huh! If I had a week off I’d find a pretty girl to keep me
company, not mess around with a horse.”
“I’ll take that under advisement.” Richard laughed, slipping
easily into his work vocabulary. “Sometimes you do get
Scott grinned as he slapped Richard on the back and
waved him out the door. “See you later. Call me if the horse
idea doesn’t work out, and you need some company.”
“You could call my sister if you wanted to.” Richard
grinned briefly when he saw the panicked expression on
Scott’s face. “I’ve told you how much you guys have in common.
Do a big brother a favor, okay? I’d like to see Joan hang
out with somebody besides the losers she usually dates. Gah!
Where does she find them? You’ve got your head on straight.
Maybe you could finally tame that little wildcat.” He suddenly
chuckled. “If she knew what I said she’d probably blister my
ears for me.”
Scott neatly turned the tables on Richard. “I’ll think
about it,” he promised, “but what about you? Your dad’s been
making noise about marriage and grandchildren for months
now. He’ll have a fit if you don’t find a wife pretty soon.” He
glanced appraisingly at Richard. “Don’t you want to fall in
love and have a family?”
“Sure, I do. I just haven’t found the right woman yet.”
Scott shrugged. “I don’t know why not. Your daddy’s a
famous senator with plenty of money, and women like your
looks. They always throw themselves at you.”
“Dad can let me handle the romance department,” Richard
replied with a scowl. “That isn’t his call to make.”
“He doesn’t see it that way,” Scott objected. “He’s thinking
about your family’s future. Have you thought about what
might happen if you refuse to get married and have grandchildren
for him? You two have a great father-son relationship.
I’d hate for anything to mess it up.”
“Don’t worry. Dad and I are okay.” Richard’s brief answer
disguised the fact that he had worried a little about that
“I guess you ought to know,” Scott agreed. “I’ll see you
later. I need to hurry and clear my desk. I’ve got a pretty girl
lined up for myself, and I want the whole weekend free.”
* * * *
Richard lowered the top of his Z4 to take advantage of
the balmy afternoon, luxuriating in the rush of the wind and
the warmth of the sun on his skin. Why’d Scott have to bring
up his father? At first the senator had contented himself with
gentle hints about the merits of certain young ladies. When
that didn’t work, he had started to arrange meetings with
women like Sheila Ridges. He hadn’t come out and said in
words that he wanted a wedding soon, but he might as well
have. Richard sighed. Dealing with his father could be exhausting.
A scowl marred his handsome face. He allowed the senator
to control his political future, but his personal life was no
one’s business but his own. He’d be damned if he married
some cold little witch like Sheila Ridges just to advance a political
career. If that was the price he’d have to pay to be the
president, it was too high. The FBI had provided a lot of satisfaction
for him. If necessary he’d stay with them forever.
His father and mother loved each other passionately.
Didn’t his father think he wanted to find love as well?
Resolutely, he pushed thoughts of the senator from his
mind. Vacation had started; no need to agonize now. He
turned into the parking lot of the building where his condo
was located and parked his car in his assigned space. Then he
hurried to the elevator, eager to rid himself of the coat and tie
that symbolized the work week to him.
A small man already occupied the elevator. He inclined
his head to Richard as the elevator doors closed.
Wonder who he is? He sure is washed out looking. The description
fit. Everything about the man somehow seemed faded,
even his hair and eyes which were a weak, nondescript brown
as was his suit. The suit fit him well enough, but it wasn’t tailor
made, maybe from a nice department store. Truthfully,
he didn’t look as if he belonged here. Living in this building in
this location wasn’t cheap.
The elevator doors opened before Richard could strike
up a conversation with the intriguing, little man. Oh, never
mind. It was such a gorgeous day, he’d decided what he
wanted to do. The beach was the only place to be on such a
beautiful day. If he hurried he’d have a few hours in the sun.
* * * *
Venice Beach was a California institution. Founded in the
1890’s, the beach’s popularity had waxed and waned across
the years until the 1984 summer Olympics turned it once
more into a major tourist attraction. You could always find
something to do in Venice.
Richard merged into the crowd and spent a few minutes
watching a street artist at work before deciding he’d really rather
spend his time near the water. He made his way toward
the shore and sat down to admire the view. Shading his eyes,
he watched some surfers trying to ride the waves and
chuckled to himself. They weren’t very good. He had tried
surfing years ago, but he didn’t especially like it. If he had
free time he’d rather go riding. He smiled when he thought of
his new horse. Too Bold would give him a challenge.
A little further down the beach a group of volleyball
players yelled encouragement to each other. Girls vs. guys,
thought Richard. I’d rather play for the girls any day, especially if
they look like that blonde with the nice butt.
Hoping to get into the game, he jumped up to make his
way down the beach, but out of the corner of his eye he spotted
a group of people surrounding a roped off area. What
were they looking at?
Curious, he wandered over to see. “What’s going on?” he
asked one of the bystanders.
“Someone’s making a movie. They’re supposed to start
in a few minutes if you want to stay and watch.”
Richard decided he might as well stay. Since he was on
vacation, he had no appointments to keep. A brief, familiar
slash of pain cut him. Movie making had interested him ever
since…a long time ago.
He saw the actors making their way to the set and tried
to identify them, but he didn’t see anyone he recognized. Either
this was a low budget movie, or the stars hadn’t made an
The director, a small man with a bushy, red mustache
that made Richard think of a walrus, introduced himself and
addressed the crowd, saying, “Any of you want to be in the
movie? We could use some people in the background. If
you’re interested go to my right and see the man in the blue
shirt. He’ll fill you in. The rest of you stand back, and try not
to get in the way. The name of this movie is Paradise Bay, and
our star is one of Hollywood’s finest leading ladies, Elizabeth
Elizabeth Lane. Elizabeth Lane. Elizabeth Lane. The director
droned on and on, but Richard didn’t hear a word he said.
For ten years Elizabeth Lane had been the mark against which
other women had been measured and found wanting. Richard’s
heart lurched and a lump in his throat threatened to
choke him. Now, when he least expected it and hadn’t had
time to prepare himself, he would have the chance to see her
Richard uneasily shifted from foot to foot and tried to
swallow the lump in his throat. He had often dreamed of seeing
Elizabeth again. Once or twice he had even picked up the
phone to dial her number, but he never had completed the
call. He couldn’t; another rejection would have killed him.
An icy chill swept across him in spite of the warm sun.
He was still afraid she’d reject him. Now one of the biggest
stars in Hollywood, Elizabeth Lane could have any man she
wanted. In fact, he’d heard on TV that she’d gotten engaged
to some lawyer. He couldn’t think of a single reason why
she’d have any interest in seeing an old boy friend again. The
last time they saw each other he’d been a green, inexperienced
kid which was probably the way she still thought of
him. A grim smile crossed his face. He hated that damn lawyer.
He’d give anything to have the guy in front of him for
He vividly remembered their last date. They had almost
gone to bed together, but at the last minute she had changed
her mind and sent him home. He had called her every day for
a week, but she had refused to see him. Finally, she had refused
to even talk to him.
He took a deep breath and blew it out. Even now that
episode stood out as the most horrible experience of his life,
but he was only seventeen, and his father had made sure he
stayed too busy to mope.
He had gone away to school the following year and had
never seen Elizabeth again. Not in person, anyway. He’d seen
her on TV and had faithfully watched every movie she ever
made. It felt a little bit like rubbing salt into a new and stinging
wound, but he knew he couldn’t break the habit so he
didn’t even try.
Gah, he had started to sweat! Would she take the time to
say hello to him? Probably, if he could get close enough to
her. Security had to be tight with a major star on hand. He
saw a number of men with cameras. Paparazzi. Yeah, they’d
have some security, or those blood suckers would torment
the stars unmercifully. How could anyone stand reading the
trash the tabloids dished up on a daily basis? One writer who
had left a popular publication had frankly admitted that he
just made up the captions which went with the photographs in
the magazine. Naturally, some of the stories were true,
though. Maybe that’s why people read them.
If he went into politics he’d have to watch himself. Reporters
loved to dig up dirt on politicians. Huh! His father
went ballistic if he did anything at all to attract negative attention.
If he ever got into a major scandal the senator would
probably kill him. Or at least hurt him real bad.
His stomach lurched when he saw movement just beyond
the roped off area. Was she coming? Elizabeth had liked him
as a kid, but what would she think of him as a man? What if
he was a disappointment to her? Why didn’t they hurry up
and get this thing over with?
With an effort born of training and long practice, Richard
brought his emotions under control. He had waited ten
years for this moment to come; he could wait a few minutes
* * * *
“Hurry up, Elizabeth. Jay’s almost finished talking, and
he goes ballistic if anyone holds up the shoot.” Cathy Craig,
Elizabeth Lane’s best friend and honorary sister, stood in the
doorway of the trailer to wait for her.
“I’ll be right there, Cathy. Just let me adjust this
belt.” She groaned as she tried to get the belt to rest in
the right place. “I hate this costume. Oh, why do I have
to be so curvy?”
“Who cares? It works for the public, right?”
Elizabeth giggled. “I guess so. Are there many people
“Yeah, a good many. Jay told them you were in the movie,
so most of them are probably waiting to see you.”
“Oh, I don’t mind,” Elizabeth answered. “If they didn’t
want to see me and get my autograph, I guess I’d have to find
The two friends laughed together and made their way to
the set on the beach. “It’s Elizabeth!” a shrill female voice
cried. The crowd buzzed with excited chatter as the spectators
pressed forward to get a good luck at the big star.
Elizabeth smiled and cheerfully waved to her fans. She
knew some of them followed her life religiously. She could
guess why, too. She represented the glamour and excitement
they craved but lacked in their daily lives. She knew a lot
about dreams, so yes, she’d gladly smile and wave to them.
Pausing for one moment, she signed a couple of autographs
before moving on.
A tall, blond man standing near the back of the crowd
caught her eye. She faltered and stumbled, catching hold of
Cathy’s arm to stay upright in the sand. No, it couldn’t be!
Richard! They hadn’t seen each other in ten years, but yes,
it was Richard. She’d know him anywhere. His blue eyes
still mesmerized her as he watched her progress across the
beach. Irrelevantly, she remembered that when he was
his eyes always darkened.
Her heart took off in a wild gallop. He had matured since
she last saw him. His shoulders had broadened, and the well
defined muscles in his chest rippled under his tee shirt. His
stomach appeared flat and hard, and his legs looked shapely
and well formed. The expression on his face spoke of a fiery,
passionate nature. Her face flushed as it occurred to her that
if she faced him across a bed today as she had done ten years
ago, the outcome might be very different. He didn’t look like
a man she’d want to turn down.
Uh oh. She had started to shake. Would she be able to do
her scene or not? She hoped so, but seeing Richard had
brought the past vividly to life.
A dull ache, long familiar, reminded her how much it
hurt to break up with him. He really was too young for me, but
somehow it didn’t matter at all. We were compatible in every way.
No wonder I fell head over heels in love with him.
Her lips tightened. She had never told him what happened
right before their final date, but she remembered it as
well as if it had happened only yesterday.
“Hello, Miss Lane. May I come in?”
“Of course, Senator Lovinggood. It’s nice to see you. Please,
come in and have a seat.”
“That’s all right. I won’t be staying long. I stopped by to tell
you that I don’t want you to see my son anymore.”
“Please, hear me out, Miss Lane.”
The senator’s cold eyes bored into hers. “Richard is only seventeen,
but you are twenty-two. Presumably, you are more experienced
than he is. Truthfully, I blame his infatuation for you on his inexperience.
Don’t take advantage of an impressionable boy, Miss Lane.
Richard isn’t a toy to be used for your pleasure and then discarded.
He’s being groomed for important work in the future, but if he keeps
seeing you he has very little chance of winning any political office. If
you care about him let him go.”
Even now she swallowed against the anger that still
burned her. I was so angry I thought I might have a stroke, she
thought. How dare he come to my home and try to intimidate me!
Her eyes took on a faraway expression. I decided on the spot I’d
never agree to the senator’s demands. I thought that seeing me
wouldn’t ruin Richard’s future career. The senator only wanted to
frighten me away.
She and Cathy had reached the set now. Elizabeth pasted
a brilliant smile on her face, but inside where it counted she
was bleeding. I changed my mind when Richard and I ended up in
my bedroom kissing, touching, and undressing. I knew then that Senator
Lovinggood was right. If Richard and I continued our relationship,
the press would crucify both of us. While it would probably help
my career, it would only hurt him. Scandal titillates the public and
enhances a star’s reputation, but it’s the kiss of death for a politician.
“Psst, Elizabeth! Aren’t you listening to me?” Cathy
“Sorry,” Elizabeth apologized. “What did you say?”
Cathy shrugged. “It wasn’t important. What were you
thinking so hard about?”
I…ah…I was..thinking about someone I used to know.”
“Who?” Kathy asked.
Elizabeth sighed. “An old boyfriend if you really want to
know. I let him go, but it almost killed me. I…don’t know if
I…ever really got over it.”
“Oh, I guess everyone remembers the one who got
away,” Cathy lightly answered. “You’ve got Alex now, and
you guys are happy, right?”
“Yes, very happy.” And they were, but come hell or high
water she intended to talk to Richard the minute this scene
ended. She’d like to know what he’d done with his life.
Hmm. Wonder if Senator Lovinggood still tried to control
him? He didn’t look like a man who’d take kindly to his father
interfering in his business.
She squared her shoulders, a look of determination on
her face. After ten years she deserved a sense of closure, and
she intended to get it. Then maybe she could finally close the
door on the past and Richard Lovinggood.
* * * *
“Elizabeth, you were fantastic! That’s your best performances
yet,” the director enthused. “Working outdoors
agrees with you. Paradise Bay has Oscar written all over it.”
“Wow, this is a red letter day,” one of the nearby camera
men called. “Jay never has a good word to say about anyone.”
“Thanks, Jay. That means a lot,” Elizabeth replied.
He stared curiously at her. “What’s wrong with you?
You look awfully nervous. You’re about to chew your lip off,
and you keep staring at the crowd. Did something happen
that I didn’t see? Are the damn paparazzi bothering you?”
“No, no. It’s…oh, I don’t know. I guess I’m just tired.”
Jay patted her shoulder. “Well, it’s Friday so go home
and get some rest. You deserve it after the performance you
“Okay, Jay. I’ll see you Monday.”
Where is he? Surely he wouldn’t just leave!
The voice came from behind her, deeper and fuller than
she remembered. “Hello, Elizabeth. It’s been a long time.”
Elizabeth’s heart leaped into her throat as she whirled
around. At times during the past ten years she’d felt sure she
had forgotten him, but just when she least expected it, she’d
find him dancing on the fringes of her mind.
She had always hoped they’d meet again, but truly she
hadn’t expected it to happen. To her chagrin the sheer animal
magnetism of the man stayed her tongue and made her feel
like a star struck groupie. She said the only thing she could
think of. “Hey.”
Richard grinned at her, his smile still the same warm, intimate
smile that had melted her heart ten years earlier.
“That’s not much of a greeting since we haven’t seen each
other in so long. Are you as nervous as I am?”
Elizabeth smiled too, more about the quizzical expression
on his face than his words. Richard had always made her
smile. “I don’t know what to say,” she admitted. “You could
have knocked me over with a feather when I saw you in the
crowd. To be honest, all I really want to do is look at you.
You’re more handsome than the law allows, you know.”
She saw him shoot an appraising look her way. “You
aren’t so bad yourself.”
Elizabeth’s heart lurched into her throat as they shared a
brief, thrilling moment of eye contact.
“I always promised myself that if we ever ran into each
other I’d be cool and calm and not embarrass myself, but…”
She laughed ruefully. “It isn’t working out that way at all.
I…I’ve always hoped we’d see each other again, but I didn’t
think it would happen.”
Her eyes fell as reality intruded. “I’ve got money and
fame now, but the Lovinggood family is still totally out of my
league. You don’t need the Hollywood set to validate you or
keep you amused. In fact, I’d bet anything Senator Lovinggood
holds the Hollywood set in contempt.”
Richard ignored her comments about his family. “Have
dinner with me tonight,” he urged. “We have ten years of
catching up to do.”
Elizabeth felt a flicker of unease; she shouldn’t accept his invitation.
Her heart belonged to a wonderful man, a man she
didn’t want to hurt by going out with Richard. Richard belonged
to her past, and that’s where he needed to stay; in the past. No
good could come of a dinner date now. For a split second she hesitated.
“I’d love to have dinner with you. Just give me a few minutes
to change. Where are we going? What should I wear?”
“Elizabeth, we’re at the beach,” he teased. “Wear shorts
“Well naturally, what else. I’ll be right out.”
She turned around and heard the rapid fire click of cameras
She smiled as she stepped back from Richard. “You’re
going to make the tabloids again. For a minute I forgot about
those paparazzi snakes. No matter where I go they follow me.
They’ve even snapped pictures of the back of my head as I
drove down the road, but I don’t see why any gossip magazines
would want those. I make it a point never to give them
anything except a big, sunny smile. Those guys are looking
for dirt or to see me make a fool of myself. I won’t cooperate
if I can help it.”
Richard shot the photographers such a black glare that it
startled Elizabeth. “I don’t care,” he said. “I never did. You
were the one who worried about it.”
Elizabeth still cared, but for a different reason. Alex
didn’t make a habit of reading sleazy tabloids, but someone
who knew her past history with Richard might call the pictures
to his attention. After all, ten years ago her relationship
with Richard had been major news. “You’ll have to work with
me to get away from them. If not, we might as well invite
them to sit with us.”
“How do you plan to get rid of them?” he asked.
“The same way I usually do.” She smiled at him. “A lot of
the pictures you see aren’t really me at all.”
“You’re kidding,” Richard exclaimed. “Who is it? She
looks a lot like you.”
“Of course she does,” Elizabeth smugly replied. “I hired a
double to stand in for me when necessary. She’ll put on one
of my outfits and some big sunglasses. Then she’ll drive my
car home. After fifteen minutes or so, I’ll come out with no
make up and sometimes a wig. I get into a six-year-old Honda
and drive away.”
Richard laughed. “Very clever. Where do you want me
to wait on you?”
Elizabeth looked around. “How about that little cafe just
down the boardwalk? The one with a pelican standing out
Richard nodded. “I know where it is.”
“See you in a minute.”
Things worked just as Elizabeth said they would. A
woman who looked very much like Elizabeth came out of
Elizabeth’s trailer wearing an expensive looking dress that
showed off her legs and breasts. She wore huge sunglasses
which covered a large part of her face.
When the photographers saw the woman they rushed
her, snapping pictures the entire time. He heard one of them
yell,” Who’s the guy you were talking to, Elizabeth? Does
Alex know he has a rival?”
The false Elizabeth didn’t answer. She smiled and waved
in the man’s direction and got into a gold Lexus and drove
away. To Richard’s surprise, several cars followed her. He
frowned. He couldn’t stop them from taking pictures, but
he’d bet anything he could keep them at bay with a good security
team. They’d come a little too close for his peace of
mind. Why didn’t she hire a big bodyguard or two?
Twenty minutes later Elizabeth joined him at the cafe.
His heart picked up a little speed. She wore shorts and a tee
shirt with her hair hanging loose, but nothing disguised her
beauty. He’d seen stars who didn’t look too great without
their makeup, but Elizabeth looked wonderful. “I’m ready,”
she exclaimed, her eyes sparkling. “What would you like to
“Hot dogs. Let’s walk down the beach and see what we
can find. I don’t like the look of this place.”
Elizabeth nodded. “Okay, let’s see what we can find.”
Return Engagement is available in print format at Amazon.com and in either print or ebook at http://www.whiskeycreekpress.com