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Authors: Lauren Blakely

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BOOK: Playing With Her Heart
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“She can open a
show,” Don insists, and he might as well be digging his heels into
the ground. He doesn’t get it. I’m ready to stalk on over to the
stage and bang my head against the damn floor boards. Because that’s
what talking to him's like. But he doesn’t stop speaking. “She
has her own album, her solo concerts sell out, she was on that TV
show about a Broadway musical, and she’s still regarded as the best
damn Galinda in the last five years.”

I stand up, pace like a
caged lion, walk to the side door exit to take a deep breath, then
return to them. “Be that as it may. I don’t want to work with
her. I want the best on stage for this. I want someone who is fresh
and amazing and who is going to blow the audience away. I don’t
want a diva. I want the next star. That woman. Jill McCormick. I want
to read stories and see in Playbills for years to come that she got
her first break, her first Broadway show, when she was cast as Ava in
our
show. She is going to be a star. I want to be the one who
discovered her.”

“I want someone who
is already a star.”

“We don’t need a
star because we have the biggest star Broadway has ever seen—the
newest Stillman show.”

I turn to Stillman. The
stony look on his face gives nothing away. I dial back my anger,
keeping my voice on the level. I respect Stillman far too much to
talk to him as I talk to Don. “Mr. Stillman, you wrote this epic
musical. You created this living, breathing, beautiful show. Who do
you picture as your Ava?”

Stillman crosses then
uncrosses his legs. He closes his eyes and hums while playing air
piano in what I’m learning is his modus operandi of recalling
actors, and replaying their performance in his mind. He opens his
eyes.

“I want the Ava who
will move the audience.”

I swallow, nod, and try
again. Keep my voice soft, and calm, almost as if he’s a child.
“Who would that be? Is that Alexis or Jill?”

Stillman stands up,
smooths his pants legs. “I need to go to the little boys’ room.”

Then he walks out, and
I believe I’ve just learned that Stillman might be a musical
genius, but is passive aggressive as fuck. He has zero interest in
decision-making or confrontations. I don’t possess that problem, so
I return my focus to Don. “We need to start rehearsals in four
weeks. The day after New Year’s. I would really like them to not
suck.”

Don rises, reaches
inside his jacket pocket, and removes a checkbook. “Does the name
Julie Taymor mean anything to you?”

The mere mention of a
fellow director’s name is his power play and I know what’s
coming. The threat he’ll dangle of a fate like hers.

Kicked off the show.

“The
Spiderman
producers were happy to let their director go,” Don says in a
biting tone. “I have no problem paying your exit clause. How much
was it?”

The man knows a thing
or two about brinksmanship, and he’s got the upper hand. Because
he’ll walk and I won’t. I want this job too much. “Fine. Call
Alexis’ agent and give her the good news. I will, however, be
choosing the understudy and my choice will be final. Is that clear?”

Don nods, and that’s
our tacit compromise. It’s hardly a compromise, but even so I’ll
be hoping Alexis has a whole lot of head colds.

Jill

As I head for the
subway, I check my phone out of habit, an instinct that won’t die,
a hope for good news. But there are no missed calls from my agent, so
I try to review my to-do list along the way, ticking off the emails I
need to send to the ladies in my running group, as well as the new
training exercises I’ll put together for them as they prep for an
upcoming breast cancer awareness 10K. Now that
Crash the Moon
is, sadly, in my rearview mirror, I suppose I’ll devote more time
to coaching runners, maybe find some gals to help train for marathons
and other races.

Besides, there will be
other auditions, other shows…right?

I glance at the screen
one more time as I head down the stairs into the busy Forty-Second
Street station, pushing past hordes of rush hour New Yorkers. I reach
the turnstile and am about to swipe my Metro Card through when I
stop. There’s a poster advertising
The King and I
on the
dirty, sooty wall on the other side. That’s the show playing in a
limited run right now at the St. James, and I can’t help but feel a
pang of longing. This is the exit I wish I were making every night at
six-thirty. The one that would take me to
that
theater, where
I’d be lucky enough to enter through the stage door, then drop my
purse on the floor of a dressing room, and do my makeup in front of a
mirror adorned with naked lightbulbs.

I’m not ready to
wedge myself onto a crowded train, wrap my arm around a pole and head
home. Tomorrow, I’ll be fine. Tomorrow, I’ll focus on what’s
next. But right now, I want to walk past the theater one more time,
to say goodbye to it, then move on to the next possibility.

“C’mon, we’re
trying to get through,” someone mutters from behind me, and that’s
my cue.

I walk away from the
turnstiles and head above ground, joining the sea of people pouring
out into the theater district.

It is dark now. Evening
has fallen, and the lights on the St. James are lit up, a beacon that
draws in young and old, tourists and residents who want to suspend
disbelief for a show. I gaze at the marquee, bright as the sun
against the night sky, and it’s such a perfect sight that it stills
my heart every time. I have loved the theater fiercely and deeply for
my entire life, both as a spectator and as an actress.

“Someday,” I
whisper.

I turn to leave and I
notice a man walking toward me, dressed in jeans, a button-down shirt
that fits him well, neat and tailored and tucked in, hiding what I
suspect is a perfectly flat set of abs. I consider myself something
of an expert on abs, though that may simply be due to the screen
saver on my laptop. My friend Ellie set it up for me. She made a
collage from her Pinterest collection of beautiful carved men.

As for this guy, I
can’t see his abs, obviously, since he’s wearing a shirt. But he
looks familiar, and as I try to put the pieces together—the trim
clothes, the strong jawline, the thick brown hair, and blue eyes so
dark they’re nearly the color of midnight—I realize, he’s the
director.

Davis Milo.

Fuck. I can’t think
about his abs. I can’t appraise his body. I can’t look at him the
same way I look at the men on my laptop. I must delete all tawdry
thoughts from my brain.

Besides, I could barely
see him in the seats with the stage lights blaring, but I can see him
now, and he has the most intense look on his face as he practically
pounds out a number on his cell phone. I watch him walking toward me,
his head down, bent over his phone, and wonder if I should say hi, if
he’d remember me from the audition. I didn’t interact with him
much, but he’s legend, and he has the Midas Touch and he’s barely
thirty years old. With a litany of hit shows on his resume, he’s
known for impeccable taste and for the best eye in New York City.
He’s discovered so many stars, but he rarely takes credit publicly.
His acceptance speeches are gracious and generous, with credit always
given to others. To top it off, he’s heart-stoppingly handsome and
he has this brooding sense about him whenever I see his pictures. As
if he rarely cracks a smile, so when he does you know it must be
special.

A strange sort of
awkwardness sweeps over me. I don’t know what to do or say in front
of this man—if I should act friendly, or pretend I don’t see him.
He’s the director—he might as well be called the Decider. My
hands feel cold and clammy.

“I’m looking for M.
J. Kim,” I hear him say, and I stop in my tracks. That’s my
agent’s name.

I say something. I’m
not sure if it’s a word or a squeak or a bark that comes out of my
mouth. Davis looks up and, as if it’s occurring in slow motion, a
grin forms on his lips. They’re nice lips. Soft and full, and
utterly kissable.

From an empirical point
of view, of course.

“Hi,” he says, and
I think it’s both to me and to my agent on the phone. I smile.
Dumbly. Should I keep moving? Walk around him? But my damn boots are
glued to the ground because every muscle in my body is in a state of
coiled tension. Is he calling my agent at six in the evening with
good news or bad news?

“Kim, it’s Milo,”
he says in a commanding voice, a deep, rich voice, and I wonder if
he’s ever performed or sung. “I’m standing on Forty-Fourth
street where I just bumped into the actress I want to cast in the
chorus, but more importantly, as the understudy for my lead.”

Jet fuel ignites in me,
and I take off for the moon.

I clasp a hand over my
mouth, my eyes widen and then I am grabbing Davis Milo and hugging
him hard. I pull him against me, and his phone clatters to the
ground, and I hear my agent say ‘Hello, hello, hello,’ but I
don’t care, because Davis Milo has given me my biggest fucking
dream ever—and it’s a double whammy of amazingness. Not only have
I booked my first Broadway show, I’ll have the chance to act with
the man I’ve been in love with since the summer I turned
seventeen—the worst year of my life that ended in the best way—when
I saw Patrick Carlson on stage, and fell into a pure love, a perfect
love, the way love should be.

Chapter 3

Davis

This woman is strong.
Her arms are wrapped all the way around me, and she’s gripping me
as if she won’t ever let go. For a second—okay, several seconds—I
picture all the things that could happen next if she moved closer
because her body feels fantastic against mine. I peel myself away
because I’m not going to entertain a single thought about her that
slips beyond the professional.

Directing a show is
like Fight Club.

The first rule of
directing is you do not fall for an actress. The second rule of
directing is you do not fall for an actress.

But her hair smells
ridiculously good, a pineapple scent that lingers in the cold
December air as she breaks the embrace, and my hand twitches because
I have a sudden instinct to twine my hands in her dark blond hair. I
am steel, though, and I will not let the way she smells affect me,
either as the director or as a man. Besides, I don’t date actresses
anymore. Haven’t in years. I broke the first two rules of directing
once before and have the battle-scarred heart to prove it.

She’s shaking. Or
bouncing. Or bounce–shaking. A tear rolls down one cheek. Then the
other. The whole time her smile could launch ships. It’s
infectious, and that’s the problem. It’s working on me already.
“This is the best thing that has ever happened to me
professionally. Ever. Thank you, Mr. Milo.”

“Really. It’s just
Davis.” I bend down to pick up my phone from the sidewalk.

“Davis,” she says,
as if my name is the sweetest word she’s ever uttered. Funny thing
is, hardly anyone calls me Davis. Most of the actors I’ve worked
with over the years have called me Mr. Milo. Most of the time I
prefer that, too. You don’t call your doctor by the first name,
nor your teacher, nor your director, as far as I’m concerned. But
Davis just sounds right on her lips, so I find myself letting her use
it.

“We’ve got a lot of
work to do before the show opens. Rehearsals start in a month and
you’ll be shadowing Alexis Carbone, who’s been cast as Ava,” I
say, reverting to cool professionalism, though her reaction—so pure
and genuine—to being the understudy melts a tiny piece of my icy
business-like heart.

Some days, it seems as
if there’s so much entitlement in this business. It’s nice to see
a little gratitude.

As another tear rolls
down her cheek, I correct myself quietly.
A lot of gratitude
.
Then I do something entirely out of character. I swipe the pad of my
thumb across her cheek to wipe away a tear. Her skin is soft to the
touch. I could get used to this.

“Can I take you out
for a drink or something? A coffee, or a bagel or a cookie, to say
thank you?” She asks with the most hopeful look in her eyes, and I
want to say yes. But that would be a huge mistake. She is off limits,
according to every definition of the term. I can’t go there again.

“That’s not
necessary.”

“Okay, so scratch
that. Because the cookie thing sounded really lame.
Can I take you
out for milk and cookies?
” she says in a sing-song voice,
clearly making fun of herself. “And coffee! Argh. When did coffee
become the thing of our world?”

“I don’t know. But
it is. The thing of our world,” I say and a grin tugs at my lips.
Her self-deprecating humor is far too alluring for my own good.

“Screw coffee. What
if I bought you a drink to say thanks?”

“I swear you don’t
have to take me out for a drink, Jill. I’m just happy you’re
going to do the show.”

She holds up a hand as
if to say she’s retreating. “Then I’ll go to Sardi’s by my
lonesome. Because my roommate is out tonight, my best guy friend is
with his woman, and I always vowed that if I ever landed a Broadway
show I’d go to Sardi’s to celebrate.”

She tips her forehead
to the restaurant that’s a Broadway institution itself. The neon
green sign flashes, beckoning tourists and industry people alike, as
it has for decades. The place is old-school, but it’s venerable for
a reason—it’s the heart of the theater district, and a watering
hole teeming with history, having hosted theater royalty for dinner
and drinks for nearly one hundred years.

She raises her eyebrows
playfully, as if she’s waiting for me to acquiesce. A cab squeals
by, sending a quick, cold breeze past us that blows a few strands of
blond hair across her face. She brushes the hair away and arches an
eyebrow. “The breeze is blowing me to Sardi’s.”

BOOK: Playing With Her Heart
6.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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