Authors: Lauren Gallagher
Tags: #canada, #Torfino, #movie stars, #actress, #contemporary erotic romance, #erotic romance, #Hollywood
Simone exhaled heavily and leaned back in her chair. Arguing with Anne-Marie was pointless, and quite frankly, a week's vacation in the middle of nowhere didn't sound like a bad idea. "So how do I get to the Bates' Motel?" Anne-Marie smirked. "Just be at the airport tomorrow morning. I'll get the flight arranged." She scribbled an address on a sticky note and slapped it on the table in front of Simone. "There are flights straight to Tofino, but you're better off driving. Paparazzi can get ahold of passenger manifests and figure out where you are. When you get to Victoria, rent a car and drive the rest of the way. Even if they know you're going to Victoria, you can lose them out on the highway."
"Tofino?" Simone looked at the address. "Where exactly is this place?"
"A few hours out of Victoria, way out on the west coast of Vancouver Island. The middle of nowhere, about as far as you can get from all of this bullshit and still have running water."
Simone absently curled the sticky note around her finger. "I'll have to talk Gregory into taking Cecily. I'm supposed to have her for another few days." Anne-Marie nodded. "He'll understand. Besides, it's probably better that she's with him until you sort all of this out."
Simone winced, but she couldn't exactly disagree. Anne-Marie was never one to sugarcoat anything, and as much as it hurt to admit it, she was right: Cecily was better off with her father for now.
Anne-Marie reached for the door. "Just go. Relax. Take some time to clear your head, and when you come back, you'd better come back as the Simone Farrell that I agreed to represent." She raised that eyebrow again. "Or, as much as it kills me, Henry Wall won't be the only one crossing your name off a contract." Simone swallowed. "Understood."
Her agent pointed sharply at the Smirnoff bottle. "There isn't any alcohol in the cabin. I suggest you keep it that way."
"And no men, for crying out loud."
"No. Absolutely no men." She pursed her lips. "The last thing you need is another man, Simone." She paused. "And Tofino is the perfect place. No one there but crusty old fishermen and retired tourists."
"So you're sending me somewhere with no alcohol and slim pickings as far as men?"
"Exactly. Now go. You need this."
Simone chewed her lip and avoided Anne-Marie's eyes.
"I'm serious," her agent said. "Just be by yourself, clear your head, then get your ass back here and be ready to work."
Simone couldn't argue; her problems with men certainly didn't help her drinking or her focus. As much as she would have killed for a good fuck right about then, it was for the best.
Anne-Marie eyed her. "Am I clear?"
Simone nodded silently. Anne-Marie watched her for a moment, then left, the trailer door slamming and leaving Simone with her thoughts.
Simone exhaled. Tofino. Vacation. Relaxation.
No working. No drinking. No men.
She hoped it was enough.
Tofino, Vancouver Island
Simone stepped into the foyer of Anne-Marie's small but plush cabin. She dropped her bag on the hardwood floor and closed the door with her foot, leaning on it and exhaling slowly.
One week. No one to bother her, talk to her, keep her company. One last chance to get her head straight.
She surveyed her new surroundings. The cabin was rustic and spacious, with a wood stove, and cozy, perfectly matched furnishings. The liquor cabinet in the corner was, as Anne-Marie promised, empty.
Not to worry. In spite of her promise to her agent-friend-surrogate mom, Simone had stopped along the way and bought a few things.
Guilt gnawed at her. Less than two hours in Tofino and already she had given in to the temptation to drink herself stupid and wallow in self pity.
Better a night with a bottle than with a man
. She cursed under her breath. How long had it been? Weeks? Months? She couldn't even remember.
Entirely too long
, said her body.
Probably not long enough
, said her rational side that was about to take a swim in some Smirnoff. The bottle would have to do, because she wasn't going to find a man here in Tofino, and at least the bottle wouldn't talk to the tabloids. She sat on the sofa and reached into the paper bag beside her. A bottle of Smirnoff. A jug of orange juice. And from her duffel bag, the stack of tabloids she probably should have left in her trailer in L.A.
"Just tonight," she promised herself, unscrewing the first bottle cap. "Just one night, then I'll get it together."
After she poured the juice and the vodka, she picked up one of the gossip rags. She was on the cover, on a beach somewhere, barely dressed and in the arms of—who was that? She couldn't even remember his name. Whoever he was, his arms were one place she definitely shouldn't have been, and with all the liquor that was flowing that weekend, she only vaguely remembered being there at all. Her boyfriend would never have known, but thanks to the blurry but damning photos, the entire world soon found out. She laughed bitterly, wondering how drunk she must have been that weekend if she thought she could do anything in secret.
Continues on Page Two
!" The headline promised. Taking a long swallow, she turned the page to relive how badly the reporters crucified her. It took three drinks to get through the first magazine. Two more to get through the second. By the time she picked up the fourth magazine, she couldn't see straight enough through the alcohol and tears to read the headlines, let alone the articles. The pictures were blurring so much they made her sick to her stomach. She stopped reading and kept right on drinking.
At some point, she stopped pouring the orange juice and drank the vodka straight. When her hand shook too much to pour it into the glass, she drank it right from the bottle. She forgot about the magazines, but the pictures were burned into her mind as she swam between drunk and unconscious. She thought she heard glass break, but didn't care.
A blurry eternity passed and Simone opened her eyes. Daylight slammed into her eyes, threatening to cleave her head in two. She moaned and covered her face with her hands.
The nausea followed, and she lurched to her feet—how had she ended up on the floor?—and ran for the bathroom. Panic seized her chest as she realized she didn't even know where the bathroom was, but she found it just in time. Just
in time. When nothing more came up, she stumbled back to the living room and sank onto the couch, cradling her head in her hands. She dug in her purse and pulled a pair of sunglasses free. They did little to take the edge off. Her skull throbbed mercilessly.
"Day one," she muttered. "Not going so well." She looked at the pile of wrinkled tabloids, and memories of the night before came trickling back. She had never before read all of them at once, had never bombarded herself with all of her sins—or at least, all the ones caught by the cameras. Seeing it all at once overwhelmed her. The vodka—most of the bottle, she saw now—
had done little to numb the onslaught of shame and guilt.
The tabloids had documented it well: The affair that ended her marriage. The drunken antics at parties and clubs. The endless string of affairs, flings, and boytoys with whom she'd cheated on an endless string of boyfriends. The dismembered remains of her career and her feeble, flailing attempts to save it.
She ran her hands through her disheveled hair.
Through the haze of her hangover, clarity slowly crept into her mind. It had to stop. All of it.
She glared at the Smirnoff bottle, what remained of the crystal clear liquid shimmering in the morning light. The smeared lipstick marks on the end reminded her of just how stupid she'd gotten the night before, when she decided to forego the glass and simply drink from the bottle.
She stood and walked to the sink, swallowing another wave of nausea that rose when she moved too fast. On the way there, a bright glitter caught her eye, and she turned to see the shattered remains of an empty Smirnoff bottle on the wood floor. Her stomach turned. Had she really killed a bottle and a half last night?
Thank God it wasn't
Staring at the bottle, she swore to herself, "It's all going to stop now." She took a deep breath, turned the bottle over, and watched its contents swirl down the drain. Afterwards, she cleaned up the broken bottle, thankful it had been empty so it didn't ruin Anne-Marie's floor.
She gathered the scattered tabloids. Just before throwing them into the trash, she hesitated and glanced at the wood-burning stove. Her gaze moved from the stove to the tabloids and back to the stove.
She knelt beside the stove with the stack of magazines and struck a match. The intense heat warmed her skin as the fire came to life. One by one, she fed the pages to the stove, watching as each picture faded and curled within the flames. The fire consumed it ravenously and with each page that crinkled down to nothing but black ash, something released within her.
The evidence of her sins burned, Simone rose and dusted herself off. For the first time, she felt strong enough to change, to get her life back on track.
No more alcohol.
No more flings.
No more throwing my career away.
I need to focus on my career, my daughter, and myself. And if that means sleeping
alone—for a while, then so be it.
I can do this.
* * * * *
Simone parked her rental car in front of the tiny general store on the narrow twolane road that passed for Main Street in Tofino. As she stepped out of the car, she met eyes with a couple of older women strolling by. Her stomach leaped into her throat and panic tightened her chest, certain they would recognize her, but they only gave her a polite smile and a "hello" before walking on.
She smiled and waved. They have no idea who I am, she thought. Moments later, a middle-aged gentleman passed by, giving her a friendly nod. Again, no recognition. With each resident she passed, her breath came easier. She still kept a nervous eye out for the press, but the only camera she saw hung from the neck of a bearded tourist who seemed more interested in the local architecture than in her.
For the first time in years, no one recognized her.
She shouldn't have been terribly surprised. Tofino was as remote as it was tiny, just a quaint little fishing village on the northwest coast of Vancouver Island. A handful of motels, some touristy gift shops, and a few quaint restaurants dotted the two lane road that ran along the piers, where small fishing boats bobbed in the tide by the marina. If there was anywhere in the world she could go to be anonymous for a few days, Tofino was the place.
A little newsstand in front of a café made her nervous: it was well-stocked with tabloids, but for the time being, her face didn't grace any of the covers. Still, anyone who'd read a recent copy might recognize her.
But as she explored the tiny village, no one gave her a second look. Eventually, she stopped glancing around in search of a camera lens pointed in her direction, stopped listening for that telltale
of a shutter, and focused on enjoying the scenery. The landscape in and around Tofino was dramatically different than that of Los Angeles. Towering evergreens dominated the mountainous terrain, a thick blanket of green velvet extending almost to the edge of the ocean. Simone strolled out of town along the shore, which alternated between vast expanses of sandy beach and rocky shoreline. The wind tugged at her skirt and toyed with her hair. She breathed the cool sea air, inhaling the crisp saltiness without a trace of smog.
Tofino was tucked into a small inlet, sheltered from the open ocean, so the water was relatively calm, its surface as smooth as glass in places. Every once in a while, a salmon burst through the surface and splashed back into the water again. The first couple of times, the fish startled her, but eventually she caught herself scanning the water's surface, trying to figure out where the next one would leap through. She drank in the silence. This place was perfect. Absolutely perfect.
was right. I needed this.
It had been years since she'd spent any time alone, and most of that time had been spent deep in a bottle. The solitude here calmed and refreshed the soul, and the quiet little village eased the knots of worry out of her bunched shoulders. It even soothed the lingering pain of her hangover, quieting the fierce pounding into a dull ache.
Already, Simone felt ready to face the world again. Part of her was ready to go charging back into Hollywood to claim the reputation she knew she deserved. But Hollywood was hardly forgiving; it would probably be years before she could shake the stigma of her affairs and the dismal movies she never should have starred in.
The all-too-familiar sound stopped Simone in her tracks. Her blood froze. Was it? No, it couldn't be. She was alone. Wasn't she?
She heard the sound again, and she knew: a camera shutter. Her heart pounded. No, no they couldn't have followed her. Not
. No one knew she was here. Did they?
A sick feeling rose in her gut.
She looked around.
The camera and its owner were behind her, maybe ten yards away. To her surprise, the lens was not pointed at her. In fact, it was pointed at the ground. The photographer knelt behind it, oblivious to her. For a moment, she just stared, dumbstruck that he wasn't trying to photograph her. She couldn't remember the last time she had looked at a camera and
stared down the lens. She looked from the camera to the long fingers that held it, and up the chiseled forearm to the well-defined, tattooed bicep that peeked out from beneath a ragged Tshirt sleeve. Her gaze kept moving, taking in the broad shoulders. Between his collar and the black and yellow camera strap, a tantalizing sliver of another tattoo showed. His fingers turned the lens slowly, carefully, and a subtle ripple worked its way up his arm, making Simone's mouth water.