Home > California Girls

California Girls
Author: Susan Mallery

Chapter One

“They’re frying bacon!”

Finola Corrado tried not to smile at the panic in her assistant’s eyes. “The cooking segment is potato salad five ways. Bacon is the cost of doing business.”

Rochelle’s horror morphed into indignation. “Yes, and right before that is the ‘What’s New in Sundresses’ segment. I’m very familiar with the schedule.” She set down her tablet, put her hands on her narrow hips and leaned forward, as if stressing the importance of her point. Her long, dark braids moved with her. “Finola, we have models in the building. Tall, skinny, hungry models. They’re starting to look feral and turn on each other. I’m convinced it’s the smell of bacon. Can’t they cook it somewhere else?”

And people assumed television was glamorous, Finola thought, still trying not to laugh.

“Move the models to the backup greenroom and tell them we have a humidity problem on set so they need to use extra hair spray. They won’t be able to smell the bacon after that. Tell the food prep person to clean up when the bacon is finished so there won’t be any more odor.”

“Oh, that will work.” Rochelle, a smart, ambitious communications graduate, relaxed. “I should have thought of that myself.”

“You will soon enough.”

Her dark-haired, dark-eyed twenty-five-year-old assistant would soon be capable of running the show, Finola thought as Rochelle left. In a few months, Rochelle would move on, taking a job that would give her more responsibility, and Finola would hire a new assistant, to begin the process again.

Getting your foot in the door in the TV business wasn’t easy. There were plenty of crap jobs, but not all of them gave the right kind of experience. Finola prided herself on hiring the best and the brightest. She was very clear with her demands—she expected a killer work ethic, absolute loyalty and 100 percent of their focus. In return, she would teach them about the business, introduce them to the right people and throw them a big party when they moved on to greener pastures.

Finola’s dressing room door opened again. One of the production assistants stuck her head in and whispered, “She’s here! She’s here. I can’t believe it. I’m so excited. Aren’t you excited?”

Before Finola could answer, the assistant was gone, no doubt to spread the joy to others.

Finola wanted to be cynical, but even she had to admit she was looking forward to meeting Treasure. AM SoCal was a successful show in a crowded media market. Being based in Los Angeles meant more access to celebrities than most shows like theirs, but even they didn’t expect to land a massive country-pop star like Treasure.

At twenty-three, Treasure was a music phenom. Her last single had a million downloads in the first six hours after release and her YouTube videos all had over a billion views. She was appearing on the show this morning for a ten-minute interview followed by a live performance of her new single “That Way.” The hungry models’ fashion show and the potato salad segments would follow.

Except for Treasure being such a big star, today’s rundown was pretty typical. Finola greeted her audience—both live and on television—with a bit of chitchat and a few jokes, then she invited her first guest onto the set. By eleven, the show was over and by noon, everyone on staff would be focused on doing it all again for the next show. Everyone but her, she thought with a smile. She was off next week.

“Hawaii, here we come,” she murmured to herself.

She and her husband needed the time away. They’d both been so busy lately, caught up in their respective careers. The week would give them time to focus on each other and their marriage. And maybe something just a little bit more.

She was ready, finally ready, to get pregnant. Nigel had been eager for them to start their family for a couple of years now. She’d been the one dragging her feet. But turning thirty-four, listening to her mother complain about having three grown daughters and no grandchild, not to mention the realization that there would never be a perfect time, had convinced her they should go for it now. In honor of the decision, she’d packed a present for Nigel to open when they checked into their suite in Maui. She had a feeling the gift of sex toys and baby booties would get the message across very clearly. Nigel was nothing if not a man of action—they were going to have fun.

She heard a knock on her door, followed by a loud, “Thirty minutes.”

Thirty minutes until showtime, she thought, settling into her makeup chair and closing her eyes.

She was already dressed and made-up, she knew her topics, had listened to enough of Treasure’s music to qualify for fan club membership, and she’d skipped carbs at breakfast so she could taste-test potato salad to her heart’s content.

“Good show,” she whispered to herself as she slowed her breathing for her preshow relaxation ritual.

She had fifteen minutes of quiet. Fifteen minutes when no one would knock on her door or burst into her room. She would collect herself and then head to the set where she would be miked and given a final dusting of powder before starting her show.

She inhaled to the count of four, held her breath for a count of eight, then exhaled—

She heard her door open, followed by, “Finola, we have to talk.”

Her eyes popped open. Nigel was standing in front of her. He grabbed her chair by the arms and stared at her intently.

“Nigel, what are you doing here? I go live in less than thirty minutes. What’s going on?”

Nigel, a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, didn’t see patients on Fridays and they were leaving on their trip in the morning. What was so important that it couldn’t wait until after the show?

He looked at her. “I’m sorry.”

It wasn’t the words that got her attention so much as the tone, and maybe the stricken expression on his face. Her stomach clenched.

“What happened?”

Visions of her sisters or her mother lying prone on the road filled her mind. Or maybe there had been a fire. Or a—

“I don’t know how to say it,” he began, only to stop.

Bile rose in her throat. Her heartbeat jumped a thousandfold and there was a ringing in her ears. Someone was dead—she knew it.

“I’m having an affair.”

As he spoke, Nigel released the chair and paced the length of the room. He was still talking—she could see his lips moving—but for the life of her she couldn’t hear anything. The roaring, rushing sound was too great.

The words repeated over and over in her head until their meaning sunk in. Years ago, she’d fallen off a tall porch onto the grass below. She’d landed on her side and all the air had been forced out of her lungs. This felt like that. She couldn’t inhale, couldn’t stop the surge of panic that swept through her as her body began to tremble. The lack of breath was followed by a sharp gut-wrenching pain in her heart.

How could he? When? With who? Why? They were married. They loved each other. He was her best friend. She was going to get pregnant on their trip to Hawaii.

No, there had to be a mistake. He couldn’t have. Only as she watched him watch her, she knew he wasn’t lying and that he really had, with four simple words, shattered her and their marriage.

“You have to understand,” he said, his voice low. “I’m sorry to have to tell you now. I know the timing is less than optimal.”

“Less than optimal?” she shrieked, then had to consciously lower her voice. “Less than optimal? I’m about to go on live television. It’s not enough to dump this on me, but you had to do it right this second, to screw with me even more?”

“I’ve tried to tell you so many times over the past few weeks, but you’re too busy to listen. There’s always another show.”

She felt a flicker of rage and reached for it with both hands. At least anger would provide temporary strength.

“You’re blaming this on me?” she demanded. “You waltz in here and announce you’re having an affair and it’s my fault you waited until just this second to tell me?”

“It’s not like that.”

“Oh, really?” She brushed away tears. “What’s it like?”

He turned away. “I thought you needed to know.”

Before she could figure out if she was shaking too hard to stand, he walked out. Just like that. She was alone with the nausea, the aches, the broken life and a ticking clock that warned her she had eighteen minutes and twelve seconds until she was live.

None of this is real, she told herself frantically. It couldn’t be. It wasn’t happening and Nigel hadn’t just told her about an affair. He couldn’t have. Not her Nigel. Not the wonderful, warm, loving husband who was always there for her. She knew him, not the cold stranger who had just left.

If only her ears would stop ringing, she thought desperately. If only she could breathe or cry or scream or run. An affair. Another woman had been in his life, his heart and his bed. Their bed. No. No! He’d slept with someone else, had whispered to someone else, had touched someone else, had orgasmed with someone else.

Her mind refused to believe even as her heart began to bleed. Betrayal and sadness and disbelief churned together until she choked. She had to get out of here. She had to go home and—

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