Provocative Attraction. AlTonya Washington
the public informed on what’s new at the market, Rook.”
Rook Lourdess flexed his fingers once, twice. It was a habit he’d learned had the remarkable tendency to alleviate the need to clench a fist and follow through with connecting said fist to the jaw belonging to the unfortunate soul who’d riled him. Lately, that had been Murray Dean—former friend, former partner and present traitor.
“What are you getting out of this?” Rook asked once the need to punch Murray had passed.
Murray gave a half shrug. “Not a damn thing—”
Murray’s jaw muscles clenched noticeably then. “I’m not blind, Rook, and neither is Viva. She’s got a chance in there.” He jabbed a thumb over his shoulder toward a long corridor that opened into an expansive main room to the party where most of the guests still mingled.
“You tell me, what were the odds of coming along to one of your boring-ass client events and running into one of the biggest movie producers in the country?” Murray continued.
Rook felt his jaw flex He had no handy remedy to ease the action that reflex usually prefaced. “Did she need you to tell me that?” he queried, his voice low and mildly lethal.
Murray grinned. “She doesn’t know I’m out here, but since her getting your attention at a client event is even less likely than her getting it when you’re supposed to be off the job...” Again, he shrugged. “I thought it’d help to step up.”
“Help her? Or help you?”
Murray snorted a laugh through his nostrils. “Me? What am I supposed to get out of it?”
“I don’t know.” Rook’s gaze narrowed, reflecting a jolting amber glint. “It’s something, though. You do nothing without a reason.”
Bristling at the barb, Murray raised a brow. “Are we getting around to my leaving the security firm, now?”
“Leaving, huh?” Rook rolled a broad shoulder in a casual shrug. “A leave that was followed by your very generous offer to the rest of the guys to come on over to your neck of the woods.”
Agitation more noticeable then, Murray rubbed at a clean-shaved albeit weak jaw. “And they threw my offer back in my face,” he admitted. At that point, it was useless to deny the unethical moves he’d orchestrated. “What’s the problem now, Rook? None of them were willing to jump ship. You’re lucky to have a group of very loyal men.”
“Yeah, they’ve all been loyal. All but one. The one I never thought would stab me in the back.”
“Because I wanted something for myself?” Murray sounded incredulous.
“No. Because you wanted what belonged to me.” Viva Hail, his girlfriend of four years, was an aspiring actress.
“Ahh...and no one takes or even looks at what belongs to Rook Lourdess without paying the stiffest penalties. Guess I should watch my back now after standing up to you about Viva.
“Do you know how on edge she’s been about talking to you about Fritz Vossler’s production company?” Murray went on when Rook remained silent. “She thought you’d be pissed. Guess she was right.”
“To know that, you must’ve been watching her pretty close.” Rook flexed his fingers again, but the fist clenched anyway.
Murray’s shrug regained its casual resonance. “Didn’t take much watching to know that. Her eyes went back and forth between you and Vossler a good five minutes in there. When you headed off to see to more business, you could all but see how relieved she was.”
Both Rook and Murray turned at the sound of the soft but husky feminine voice that had called out.
Viva Hail stood in the foyer where Murray had cornered Rook after Rook’s brief chat with his client and security team on hand for the evening’s gala event. Rook’s client represented a well-known Philadelphia charity that had national appeal to those with ties to the theater and film industries.
Viva shook her head once in Murray’s direction.
Murray turned back to Rook. “Listen, man,” he began in a tone far more humble than the one he’d used previously. “In spite of everything, I do care about you guys. I was just trying to help.” He left Rook with a quick smile, headed to Viva and brushed her arm when he drew near. “I’ll be at the bar,” he told her.
“I hear you need my attention, is that right?” Rook considered Murray’s departing form before looking back to Viva. “I’m only working off his insight, but he seems to have a crap load of it.” He made an effort to come down off some of his frustration. “Be straight with me, V. Have I done something to make you afraid to talk to me?”
“No. No, Rook. Please don’t think that.”
“Then tell me what to think.” He threw another look toward the corridor. “When the hell did you and Murray get so close?”
“Since he became the manager of Fritz Vossler’s East Coast security division.”
Rook ignored the tightening of his jaw muscle then. Word had reached him of Murray snagging the big fish a few weeks back. “What’s that got to do with you?”
Viva began a slow walk around the perimeter of the townhome’s foyer. The hem of her empire-waist crimson gown swished elegantly about her curvy frame as she moved. “Mr. Vossler and his people are scouting for fresh talent, and anyone they sign is privy to all the perks his West Coast assets receive. Security is one of them.”
“Again, what’s that got to do with you, V?” His manner proved to her he already had the answer.
“Vossler just asked me to sign with his company.”
She smiled, understanding. “He asked weeks ago.”
Rook smiled then too and commenced his own slow pace of the foyer. “Weeks ago...guess that’s what he was talking to you about the other night at Jazzy B’s.”
Viva inhaled sharper than she realized. Sometimes she forgot how scarily perceptive her boyfriend was. “He goes there a lot when he’s in town.”
“Right. Looking for new talent and all.”
“Rook... Don’t make this harder.”
“‘This.’” Rook stopped his pacing. “Exactly what is ‘this,’ V? Telling me you signed with a producer? I don’t think Murray would’ve been looking as smug as he was if it was only about that.”
Viva watched him, amazed and wondering how he read a person so easily. Resolved, she gathered what remained of her struggling courage and decided to get it over with. “Mr. Vossler offered me a part—not a commercial but a real part. Shooting starts in two weeks on location...in Rio.”
Rook felt the blow her words dealt him. He forced himself to recover quickly. “Brazil. Congrats.”
“How long will you be gone?”
“Five months,” she said after a split second of hesitation. “We head out to Los Angeles right after that to finish filming and postproduction. That’ll take another month or so.”
Rook resumed his stroll. Then his steps took him in a wide circle around Viva. “That’s a lot of prepping to do in two weeks. Shots, passport, your job.”
She smiled again. There was no humor in the gesture. She knew what he was getting at. “I’ve done all that already,” she said.
“And at no time was there an opportunity to tell me?”
“I didn’t know how—” She bristled anew when he erupted into cold laughter.