Authors: Debra Webb,Regan Black
Tags: #Melinda Leigh, #hollywood, #Melissa Foster, #Literature & Fiction, #Suspense, #Harlequin Intrigue, #Romantic Suspense, #Military, #Romance on the Run, #Mystery & Suspense, #bodyguards, #woman in jeopardy, #Romance, #Navy SEALS, #celebrity romance
TOO FAR GONE
Debra Webb and Regan Black
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2015 WebbWorks, LLC
Edited by Marijane Diodati
Cover Design by Vicki Hinze
All rights reserved. In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the authors’ intellectual property. Thank you for your support of the authors’ rights.
D & R Books, WebbWorks, LLC, Huntsville, Alabama
First Edition January 2015
When there is no one else to turn to...
When there is no one else to keep you safe...
A dangerous protector from the Guardian Agency is the man you want for the job.
The Guardian Agency was born of necessity and forged in determination, but every protector has one thing in common: He never fails. Whatever it takes, whatever the stakes.
West Hollywood, California
Tuesday, December 9, 5:45 p.m.
Lauren Marie Woods finished reading the script and turned it upside down on the small table as if hiding the title page would somehow make the entire mess go away. She’d chosen to read through the project alone and in public at a popular diner. It was the most effective way to keep her reaction—good or bad—in check. In Hollywood someone was always watching, eager to take an embarrassing photo or to start rumors and stir up trouble.
Everyone played the game, but she preferred to go about it more quietly than most. Lauren saved the drama for the set instead of allowing it to seep into every nook and cranny of her personal life. According to her agent, Desmond Trinity, that was part of the problem. Desmond insisted her need for privacy was the reason her career hadn’t hit the right high points. If only she would cut loose occasionally, seek out some bad-girl publicity, and develop her inner diva, she would be in demand.
On that, they disagreed. Lauren believed there were better ways to stand out than a trumped up drug charge at Hollywood’s hotspot of the week or a bogus tantrum on Rodeo Drive. Lauren wanted to be known as an impeccable professional among her peers. She had cultivated a reputation as a dedicated and competent actress directors and producers could count on to show up and to give her best. Still they incessantly hired her for little more than her body and her ability to scream on cue in low-budget horror films.
In time, Lauren had realized the problem. Desmond—her agent and on-again-off-again boyfriend—never suggested her for more substantive projects. Sure she had a sweet role as fan favorite Dr. Loveless on the
daytime drama. She and Desmond agreed one hundred percent on the steady work. Beyond the security of the paycheck padding her bank account, her success on the show enhanced his talent agency’s reputation. Trinity Talent represented some of the top television and film stars. She’d been luckier than most new faces in Hollywood when she’d shown up ten years ago at the tender age of eighteen and landed his representation. He’d arranged her first auditions and she had been working regularly since which was pretty darned good for a girl from small town Kansas.
But with this script, she glared at the offensive waste of paper, Desmond had done it again, damn him. He’d told her this could be her breakout role, but obviously he’d been referring to her ability to break out of a demon’s lair in her underwear. Why couldn’t he—
—support her vision for her career?
She gazed through the diner window at the glittering city lights along Sunset Strip until the surge of anger eased. Her arrival in Los Angeles had been like all those lights: bright and exciting, full of hope and dreams. If she wanted to push her career to the next level it was clearly time to sever her contract with Trinity Talent. The task would have been far simpler if she hadn’t allowed their relationship to become personal.
Not for the first time, she regretted giving in to his romantic overtures all those years ago. He’d been so smooth, and she’d been so young and naïve. Lust and a grudging mutual respect weren’t a solid foundation for love and weren’t nearly enough to change Desmond. Without her role as Dr. Loveless and the self-imposed psychology research that went along with it, they wouldn’t have lasted six months under the same roof. The research allowed her to deal with the highs and lows without losing her mind. Her long-running performance as the adoring and longsuffering girlfriend of Desmond Trinity was one for which she would never receive the Emmy or Oscar she deserved, she thought ruefully.
Angry again—with him and herself—her inner diva was suddenly willing to burst into the limelight with a world-class fit. What a scene it would be if she indulged the urge, poured coffee over the script, and tossed it in his face. Lauren had worked too hard, invested too much in her career to keep playing the bombshell screamer or ditzy girl next door. She wanted
roles. She wanted to dig into substantial parts that her fans would embrace.
Desmond was at the top of the echelon in Hollywood, and he’d found those roles for other clients. For reasons he refused to explain, he’d never sent her to an audition for a part that had the potential to propel her to the top of the A-list. He had plenty of bigger clients, she understood that, and she wasn’t right for every script that crossed his desk. Still, as the longstanding man in her life, she’d expected a certain level of emotional and professional support.
After all this time he had to know it wasn’t about fame or being more popular than other actresses, not for her anyway. The more meaningful roles would allow her to grow creatively and would give her the challenge she craved. She tapped her French manicured nails on the script. Obviously, he had no intention of opening his eyes as either her agent or her boyfriend. Or maybe he was afraid she’d outgrow him and move on. Either way, he was cheating her. Cheating her and cheating on her!
The dull ache somewhere near her heart surprised her. Her heart wasn’t broken, just tangled up in more regrets. No matter, she would need to tread carefully through the inevitable confrontation. Their personal relationship, like their business contract, served a purpose. She’d known for years they weren’t living a love for the ages. Their time together would hardly meet the definition of mutual adoration, even in Hollywood. On some level, she’d stayed with Desmond for the visibility. His inability to stay faithful had killed her feelings for him long ago.
She’d been smart to handle this read-through of the script alone. If she’d agreed to his request to read it with him in the office tonight over dinner, she would’ve flung the script at him in a fit of temper, and then gone straight home to pack up and leave him. A stunt like that would’ve hit the tabloids within hours—he would’ve seen to it—pushing her further from her goals. No one gave her much credit for brains, assuming her famous blond hair and naturally large breasts somehow negated her mental acuity.
Let them underestimate her. She was a good actress and Desmond knew it. She was about to seize the reins and take her career in the right direction. She’d dallied too long as it was. The security of his representation and a highly sought after address to call home no longer felt like the priority it once had.
Lauren paid her bill, leaving a generous tip for the waitress. She’d been there once, working every possible shift between casting calls until Desmond had found her and signed her. He’d given her a good start even if he refused to entertain her more serious plans for the future. For giving her that good start, she owed him a clean, civil break.
She rehearsed her speech aloud on the drive to his office on Wilshire Boulevard. He should be wrapping up his day by now. Desmond often filled his afternoons with interviewing—and screwing—the next generation of red-carpet wannabes. Just another reason their personal relationship had never made it to the next level. Lauren couldn’t even remember the last time they’d shared a bed, much less made love. Funny, that part never really bothered her. Deep down, she’d considered Desmond more friend than boyfriend. He was about to discover that friends shouldn’t treat friends this way.
On the street in front of the building, a glossy black car with dark windows took up both parking spaces assigned to Trinity Talent. Had Desmond planned to take her out to dinner? Maybe he, too, had realized a public place was best for this reading. He had to know she wasn’t going to be happy with the script. Then again she was early. Maybe he had an appointment. If he was in there banging some bimbo on his couch, she might just pitch one of those famous Hollywood fits.
Lauren found a spot just around the corner and turned off the engine. Flipping down the visor, she checked her make-up and added a fresh swipe of gloss to her lips. He often said her mouth was one of his favorite features and she wanted him to have some regret about treating her this way. Thinking her casual floral skirt, snug sweater, and heels might not pack the right punch—especially if they were going out for dinner—she debated going by the house to change into something more appropriate for a business meeting.
No. She needed to do this now, before she lost her nerve. And she needed to do this here, at the office in
. Mentally reciting her speech one more time, she decided it might be better for both of them if she didn’t say anything. A note might be simpler, depending on who he had in there with him. No point in feeding the rumor mill.
With the script in her lap, she twisted around searching her car console, her purse, and then beneath the passenger seat for a pen. She wrote only two words ‘
in the blank space under the title. Then she signed her name.
“Perfect.” She locked the car, dropped her keys into her purse, and slung it over her shoulder before heading for the side door of the building. “Actors and actresses change agents all the time. No big deal.” The news would make the usual rag papers and magazines, but eventually it would be replaced by some other actor’s latest move or dilemma.
Head held high, she summoned the posture and poise of her Dr. Loveless character on her way to the lobby elevators. She poked the call button and took a long, deep breath. “Hand him the script and walk away,” she reminded herself in a whisper. They could divvy up their classic movie collection later. Clean. Civil. No drama breakup. Just go their separate ways.
Rolling and unrolling the script in her hands, her impatience ratcheted up. She pushed the call button again but neither elevator seemed inclined to cooperate. She blew out a big breath. One way or another she was going to finish this tonight. She turned on her heel and headed for the stairs.
Desmond would protest and try sweet-talking her. He would promise and cajole, but deflecting all that would be the easy part. The challenge would be maintaining her composure in the face of his inevitable explosive lecture touting his expertise and long-range vision for her. She clutched the script in her fist, a tangible reminder of what was at stake.
“We’re done,” she whispered. Whatever it took, she would make him believe it. She would not tolerate any more of his bravado and bluster.
When she reached the fourth floor, she decided to use one last advantage and headed for the back entrance to the office suite. Desmond used this rear exit when he wanted to slip away unnoticed from a waiting client. As she passed the break room where Desmond’s lovely assistant prepped perfect, calorie-controlled refreshments for his clients during regular business hours, she heard raised voices. The voices were definitely coming from his office. She moved closer. The door was open but she couldn’t see inside yet. Surprisingly the other voice was male.
“Wait!” Desmond shouted, his voice tight with desperation.
“We are done waiting,” the man replied in a flat voice of indeterminate European origin. “You have failed to fulfill our requirements.”
Desmond must be helping someone rehearse, Lauren decided. Wanting a better look, she tiptoed a little closer to the open door.
“Not a failure, gentlemen. A hiatus,” Desmond said, his voice quieter now but still laced with tension. “A short pause, that’s all. The feds have been sniffing around. Believe me, I’m protecting everyone’s interests.”
“You offer me excuses? You are weak. Useless!”
Lauren was near enough now to see two men in dark suits facing off with Desmond. The shorter one doing all the talking seemed to be in charge. From this angle it was impossible to see more than their profiles. The man in charge nodded and the second man, this one a little younger and taller, stepped forward. If this was a rehearsal, where were the scripts?
“Let’s all take a big breath and relax,” Desmond implored taking a step back. “I always come through.”
Definitely not a rehearsal. She’d never seen him so disheveled in a meeting with clients.
“If so, then when will we have the product you’ve promised?” the shorter man demanded.
“Patience is a virtue,” Desmond replied, visibly regaining his composure. “As soon as the feds get distracted, I’ll have the cream of the crop delivered. Andreas knows I’m good for it.”
“If Mr. Polzin had any confidence in you, I would not be here.” The boss spat on the floor, and then gave another nod. The taller man drove a fist into Desmond’s stomach. He doubled over only to take a hard elbow to the kidneys.
Lauren jumped. Her heart stumbled. What was going on here?
“I give you my word,” Desmond sputtered between gasps for breath.
“That is not good enough, Mr. Trinity.”
A kick to the stomach had Desmond collapsing near the boss’s feet. A muffled scream jerked Lauren’s attention beyond the men to the couch on far side of the office. A beautiful woman only half dressed cowered there. Her eyes were wide, her thick mane of dark hair tousled. Anger momentarily burned through the fear Lauren felt. So Desmond had been here with a new fledgling actress. The woman looked older than the typical wannabe and vaguely familiar, but—
“Our patience has run out,” the boss was saying. “We require the
product on schedule to maintain our reputation and to keep money flowing in. Money you like to spend, no?”
Desmond peered up at the man. “Yes. Yes. I understand. I’ll make it happen. Just give me a chance.”
Lauren had to do something. She reached into her purse, searched for her phone. Not there. Her pocket! She’d put it in her pocket at the diner. She dug into her pocket.
. Damn it! She must’ve dropped it in the car. She glanced back down the corridor. There wasn’t a phone in the break room. What could she do?
Maybe if she walked in the men would stop.
When she would have moved, the boss said, “Mr. Trinity, Mr. Polzin would like me to inform you that your services are no longer required.” He brushed one palm against the other. “You are finished.”
Lauren took a breath and prepared to announce herself. When she opened her mouth to speak she saw the gun. Lauren’s mouth snapped shut on a scream as her heart launched into her throat. The taller man bent down and pressed the extra long barrel to the back of Desmond’s head. Before she could blink he fired twice. The quick pops hissed in the eerie silence. Desmond’s body jerked, then slumped lifeless to the floor.