Authors: Julie N. Ford
Tags: #Romantic Comedy, #inspirational, #inspirational romance, #Contemporary, #contemporary romance, #sweet romance, #clean romance, #relationships, #love
Copyright © 2014 Julie N. Ford
All rights reserved.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, incidents, places, and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form whatsoever, whether by graphic, visual, electronic, film, microfilm, tape recording, or any other means, without prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief passages embodied in critical reviews and articles.
Published by HEA Publishing
The Ripple Effect
Like a pebble tossed into calm water,
a simple act can ripple outward
and have a far-reaching effect on those we meet,
perhaps setting a life on a different course—
one filled with excitement, adventure, and sometimes even love.
Other Works by Julie N. Ford
Count Down to Love (
2011 Whitney Award Finalist)
No Holly for Christmas
For my sister, Loree
Olivia rubbed a chill from her shoulders. Overhead, a silver ribbon fluttered incessantly from the vent.
Baron Broadcasting must have its air conditioning piped in from Antarctica
, she mused. Her eyes traveled across the patterned carpet to where a woman sat perched behind a stainless steel reception desk, leafing through the pages of a gossip magazine, no doubt perusing stories ranging from tragic break-ups to weight gain to a fall from grace. Infamy: the ugly flipside of fame, invariably accompanied by a return to obscurity.
A fate Olivia herself would soon be all too familiar with.
Above the receptionist, centered across a vast expanse of windows, the silhouette of a triplane, complete with a machine-gunned fuselage, loomed over the reception area, casting an ominous shadow against the far wall. From a cloudless sky, California sunlight beat against the glass. And despite the fabricated nip in the air, Olivia had the sensation she was wilting, curling inch by inch, a paper doll discarded onto the hearth of a roaring fire.
Combating the urge to fidget, to coil a precisely straightened strand of otherwise natural curl around her finger, Olivia stacked her hands securely in her lap. Today it was imperative that her hair—well, every part of her for that matter—appeared absolutely perfect, and so she couldn’t risk even one nervous twirl. Still, her fingers twitched, itching for a distraction, an outlet for the release of nervous energy. Her gaze fluttered to her purse. For times such as this or when the impulse to recreate a moment in time would strike her, she carried a pocket-sketchpad. A quick doodle might relax her. Only she resisted. She needed to remain focused.
“How much longer?” she wanted so badly to ask but didn’t dare. She couldn’t afford to appear anxious or unprofessional.
Then, as if on cue, the receptionist’s hand paused mid-page flip. She lifted her fingers to the headset horseshoeing her cropped hair. An instant later, she looked to Olivia. “It’ll be about another fifteen minutes, Miss Pembroke.” She pinched an inch of air between her thumb and forefinger. “They’re having a tiny, little issue with the camera.”
, Olivia repeated in her head, the voice of her agent trailing along behind. “The studio doesn’t want to waste time with an audition. They’re going straight to screen test.” In other words, they were in a hurry to fill this role. The studio’s haste being Olivia’s best chance for salvation.
You see, after years of living in LA on not much more than minimum wage, her credit had long since surpassed the maximum limit. She was two months behind on her rent and facing eviction. Her mother and daddy had already loaned her the better part of their retirement savings. Then, a few days ago, she’d been “let go” from the Rodeo Drive boutique where she worked while awaiting her Big Break—fired when the gown a studio executive, Ms. Hightower, had special ordered to wear on New Year’s Eve hadn’t been delivered in time. Though Olivia had nothing to do with the tailor’s courier being held at gunpoint somewhere in West Hollywood, she was held responsible, the cost of the missing gown docked from her exit-pay. Setting aside the two hundred dollars she needed for gas in order to crawl back to Tennessee with her tail between her legs, she was completely broke.
But then, as if the sky had rolled back, exposing a herald of angels, a miracle unfolded right before Olivia’s eyes. Ms. Hightower had caught up to her in the parking lot. “Tell you what I’m going to do, Olivia,” the executive had said. “Since I’ve had a nasty bout of bad karma myself lately, I’ll cut you some slack. And just to prove to the universe that I deserve a break as well, I’m going to set you up with an opportunity every two-bit actress in this town would trade her double-D implants to have.” She gave Olivia a grave look. “And don’t you dare disappoint me…
The Opportunity to which Ms. Hightower had referred just so happened to be an exclusive audition, a chance to slip immediately into the recent, and quite unexpected, vacancy left by actress Nicole Henshaw as cohost of the network’s most watched reality show,
. Rumor had it Ms. Henshaw had left the show to “work” on her “strained” marriage to mega action star Ethan Henshaw.
And so here Olivia was, on the verge of her Big Break at last. If she could land this role there would be no more embarrassing bit parts on silly commercials, or playing a random face in the crowd. She’d no longer have to endure the patronizing looks of people with no regard for the insurmountable time, work and persistence needed to break into show business when her one precious line got cut, trampled underfoot on the editing room floor. No, this was the opportunity destined to change her life and her career forever. She could feel the transformation reaching out to her, her fingers stretching back in return. Proof positive she was worthy of living her dreams. Only another inch, a mere whisper, and she would grab hold and never let go.
But with hope also came that relentless monster of self-doubt. It slipped its gnarled fingers around her neck and gave her spray-tanned flesh a tight squeeze. She knew it was caustic to focus on her failures at a time like this and insane to feel old at twenty-seven. While the rest of the world claimed forty as the new thirty, in Hollywood, thirty might as well have been the new fifty, especially for an actor still trying to wedge her foot in the door. But try as she might, she couldn’t hold her negative thoughts at bay. The bulk of her personal failures, the times she’d fallen shy of the spotlight, along with her ever-advancing age, all cascaded atop her like tiny pebbles of defeat, threatening to crush her in seconds, to unravel her carefully polished veneer.
Pulling at the collar of her blouse, Olivia struggled to hold back the pesky demons of her past. But the relentless sunlight, coupled with the gloom clouding her thoughts, continued to poke at her like a persistent drippy faucet. Her palms started to sweat, her heart to race. Then her stomached twisted, wringing its contents against gravity and up into her chest.
Springing to her feet, Olivia hitched her purse strap onto her shoulder, and managed a quick, “I need a minute,” to the receptionist, before making a beeline around the corner, straight for the restroom.
Immediately upon shouldering the door open, she tripped over a yellow
sign, but caught herself on a maintenance cart sitting abandoned smack in the middle of the room. The cart began to roll, throwing a few items clacking to the floor, and taking Olivia along for the ride. Moments later, the ringing sound of metal against porcelain brought them both to a screeching halt against the far wall.
One hand covering her mouth, she released her grip on the cart and staggered over the space separating her from the closest stall. Palming the metal door open, she saw—then smelled—that the toilet was plugged. Her stomach heaved again. She backed away and flung herself into the next stall. She was met with a sight of equal repugnance. Not wanting to chance another nasty toilet bowl, she turned to the row of sinks lining the far wall.
Her hands gripping the cool marble of the counter top, she leaned forward and retched. She wasn’t surprised when nothing came up because nothing was precisely what she’d had to eat and drink today. And not just because she couldn’t risk even the slightest possibility of bloating, but because she’d spent her gas money on a pair of Mark Jacob’s pumps to wear, leaving not even a few dollars for a small, fat-free latte.
Her stomach lurched again.
A foul taste burned her throat.
She squeezed her eyes shut and swallowed back before sucking in a few deliberate breaths. “Get a grip, Olivia,” she muttered to herself. “This is your last chance. Don’t blow it.”
Turning on the faucet, she brought a palm full to her lips and sipped. The cool water trickled down her raw throat, hitting her belly like a fist full of marbles. She took another slow breath, then lifted her head and allowed her eyes to slide open.
But as her eyelids folded up, one of her contact lenses caught, shifting out of place. “Perfect,” she said, leaning into the mirror for a closer look. Sure enough, through the haze of her partially blurred vision, she could see that her left eye was a rich shade of emerald green, the right a muddled gray-greenish brown.