It was a long shot, but considering his options, Thomas Dern felt that it was a risk well worth taking. It would require a team, and it would require discipline. Most of all, it would require complete professionalism and dedication.
He looked at Brandin, and once again considered whether he should cut his losses. The young actor looked like shit. His hair was stringy, eyes swollen and red, his tan barely hid a deathly pallor that was exacerbated by the dark hollows of his eyes.
He spent several minutes watching his client fidget in the chair before speaking up.
"This is it, Brandin. No more chances. No more excuses. You have only this slim hope and if you fuck this up, we are done. Period. End of story."
Brandin Jessup started at the profane word as if his agent had physically struck him. Thomas Dern never swore. He had been Brandin's agent since he was a child. He had been a father, confidante, mentor, advisor, and confessor. In all those years Brandin knew that he had never seen him express a single obscenity. That was one of the reasons he was called, The Mormon.
In all those years, Brandin Jessup had also been a right royal pain-in-the-ass, but Thomas had always corrected him without anger, and without any form of chastisement. The worst expression he had used toward his wayward client was to express disappointment. Brandin had always been wise enough to clean up his act....at least for a while....and it had always paid off for him.
He felt an involuntary shudder at the possibility that he might lose that relationship. That Thomas might walk away from him and abandon Brandin to his own devices. He knew he needed Thomas Dern on his side.
"Look...Thomas...I know that I get a little off the rails, sometimes. I appreciate all that you have done for me, I really do. I know that I owe you a lot and that some of the things I have done have made you doubt my commitment....doubt me. I will do whatever it takes to regain your trust."
Thomas Dern eyed his client up and down with a look of distaste.
"We need to clean you up....and not in that country club. I have a place up near Big Bear, I am sending you and George up there tonight. You will be met by some doctors and other specialists who will detox, and condition you. You will follow every instruction they give you. You will take nothing. No cell phone, no electronic devices, no clothing, no women....NOTHING. If you fail to follow these instructions in the slightest way, I am dropping you as a client."
"What'll I be doing in my spare time?"
"Becoming a woman."
Brandin looked at his agent and sudden recognition made him nod.
"Okay....but how will that help if..."
"The Sharp's will be having a Carnaval party in a couple of weeks. Brandin Jessup is no longer invited; however, Celia Cole has an invitation."
"Who's Celia Cole?"
"One of my clients. I just managed to land her a part in a cable network film project. She departs for Belgrade in a little over a week for a location shoot. She will also be at the party, provided you work very, very hard and do everything you are told."
Brandin Jessup smiled, broadly. "Yes, Sir!"
Thomas signaled to George, who had been lounging near the door. The burly bodyguard had been working Brandin Jessup's security team for three years, but he didn't work for Brandin Jessup. He was contracted and paid by Jessup through a minor production company called Brand N Iron Films, a stupid name if you asked George, but the pay was good.
His actual employer, who leased the bodyguard to Jessup's company, was a security company that was owned by a shell company that was owned by another corporation in the Cayman Islands. He was never sure whether that company was actually owned by Thomas Dern, or if Dern was just the point man. Either way, he took his orders from Dern and reported back everything that happened in Brandin Jessup's star-studded, sexually-charged, fucked-up excuse for a life.
George Hadley didn't really care who was calling the shots. Jessup got him into some wild shit, but the fringe benefits were well worth the hassle of playing nursemaid to a 31-year-old adolescent. He got lots of kinky bitches, quality booze, a good health and dental plan, and enough excitement to keep him interested. All the security guys he worked with were ex-military or ex-law enforcement. They were a good bunch, and for a 43-year-old ex-Ranger, that was good enough.
He crossed over to Brandin and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"C'mon and let's get this over with so we can hit the road, boss"
Brandin gave him a look of incomprehension.
"Place your hands on the chair and pull your feet back and spread 'em."
Thomas spoke up, "Just do as you're told, Brandin."
What followed was the most humiliating experience of the young movie star's life. Sure, he had been arrested...and searched...but he was always drunk, stoned, or both. Cold sober, in the middle of the day, with the sun shining in through a plate glass window overlooking the City of Angels, it was a million times worse.
George began patting the stunned actor down. He then pulled on a set of latex gloves and poked around inside his mouth before ordering him to strip and grab his ankles. He calmly examined every inch and every orifice of Brandin Jessup's body before announcing, "He's clean. Sorry, I had to do that, boss."
Brandin looked at him with a shell-shocked expression, noting the cold, dispassionate eyes of his bodyguard.
George held his gaze a few moments until the actor finally lowered his own.
"Well, Sir?" the guard asked. "Perhaps we should go. It's a long drive to Big Bear."
Thomas Dern walked his client to the elevator, taking the time to go over his plan in detail. He made it clear that for the next two weeks, Brandin Jessup was to obey every instruction. He would have no authority at all. His name, his reputation, and his fame meant nothing, absolutely nothing at all.
"Just remember, Brandin...if you decide you just can't do it....for any reason...say the word. Got it?"
"I won't, Thomas. I promise I will do whatever it takes."
As they emerged from the elevator into the garage, a car was waiting with the rear passenger door open and two men on each side scanning the area. The car was a well-used Ford Explorer with dark tinted windows.
"I know what you're thinking, Brandin. It isn't a limo or a luxury sedan. You are going to be hiding out. You will be incognito for the next few weeks and nobody must know where you are, or what you are doing. You do not want the paparazzi to get pictures of you in drag. Not yet, at least. We want your unveiling to be a surprise."
He smiled coldly at his client.
Brandin nodded his understanding and shook his agent's hand before George eased him inside the darkened SUV. One of the security guys got into the passenger seat as the other got in behind the wheel. As the truck pulled out of the garage and headed for the freeway, Brandin felt like he was in a mob film.
'I wonder if I'll be sleeping with the fishes', he mused.
He almost chuckled at the imagery, when he felt George put a vice-like grip on his arm.
"Look at me, Sir. I need you to understand what we are doing here. This is for your safety and security." He paused for effect. "Right now, you are no longer my boss. You are just a client...OK?"
The grip on his arm hurt, and Brandin wasn't sure how OK he was, but he nodded all the same.
"Mr. Dern will have people staying with us. Nobody will be leaving the compound, at all. Security will be airtight. We have all the supplies that we need and every single person involved in this operation is gonna be there for the duration. Mr. Dern said 'no contact' so that's how it will be. If I see you even poking your head out a window, we close up shop. Understand?"
Brandin nodded more vigorously, and squirmed, as the hand was beginning to hurt him. The burly bodyguard released his arm.
"Sorry. Just remember, if you come to a point where you realize you can't hack it....say the word. OK?"
Brandin flushed with anger, briefly.
"NO....I won't quit. I can do this."
Dana was scrambling just to keep up. She had always prided herself on her ability to organize. She had a very analytical mind that was constantly sorting and sifting data as she accumulated it. Growing up, many of her fellow students, as well as quite a few teachers, had believed that she was just a little bit dumb.
The fact was that she was very intelligent, but she was also a plodder. She might know an answer, but spend a long time considering alternatives. She could spend hours on her homework assignments, getting everything just so. It was not just part of her personality, but something that she often used to her advantage. She could hide in her room doing homework and avoid seeing her stepfather....always a plus.
Her shoulder-length hair was somewhat tousled as she and Gabriel went over the script and discussed the shooting schedule. She was amazed at his ability to shift focus from one random issue to another totally unrelated one. He reminded her of a juggler, as he dealt with various members of the production company, film crew, specialists, caterers, and the multitude of other people that seemed to desperately need something right now.
Another thing that she began to notice about the young PA was the feminine grace that he exhibited at all times.
He wasn't effeminate, although many of the people he dealt with were. He was just very...feminine. It wasn't anything in particular. He had beautiful features, though not particularly slender. She began to wonder what he looked like in a dress. She visualized him as a firmly voluptuous woman.
During a respite, she idly wondered about his personal relationship with the Sharps. They sat in their shared office having coffee. Matt Sharp had been in a couple of times in the morning to check on her, but had left for a meeting shortly after noon, and had yet to return. She flushed when Gabriel noticed the way she was looking at him and smirked as if he knew exactly what she was thinking.
"A lot to process, huh?"
She pulled herself together, "Yeah. I knew you guys had a lot to do, but it seems as though you are wired into everything. I don't know if I can handle it like you can."
He eyed her for a moment, then softly said, "That's not what I meant. I was talking about the Sharps and me....and how it might impact you."
Before she could reply, he added, "As to the business stuff, you won't be able to handle it like me. You will have to handle it like you."
"I'm not sure that I can...I mean, I always believed that I could, but after today...."
"Today was throwing you into the deep end. It was a test, of sorts....well....not so much a test, as a proving."
"...a proving....of what?"
"That Ms. Sharp was right about you. She has an almost infallible way of reading people, developing and nurturing talent. She has had her eye on you since you began working here."
The word hung there between them. She was dying to ask the question. Dying to ask, but she was too terrified to bring it up. Instead, it sat there like an elephant in the room as she attempted to dance around it, without acknowledging its presence.
"Dana, I would like you to understand something before you explode. I love them. I seriously mean that in every way I can define the word. They are not what you may think they are. They are strong and very domineering in their way, but they are never abusive. In many ways, serving them has saved my life."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm from the Philippine Islands. My father sent me here to study business and then work with him in his businesses. He would never tolerate me as I am, he would probably kill me."
"But that's ridiculous, why would your father do that?"
"Because I am not the man he wants me to be, and I never will be. I never can be, even if I wanted to."
"What do you mean? I'm sure a lot of fathers have high expectations for their sons, but surely...."
Gabriel smiled sadly, "Dana, I am not his son, not really. I am transgendered and that is something that he could never in a million years accept."
"Oh my God, you could star in Soft Kill!"
She immediately covered her mouth as if to try to pull the words back inside as soon as they escaped, but Gabriel just laughed.
"I know. Funny how things work out, huh?"
"I'm sorry, Gabriel. That was a stupidly rude thing to say. I have no filtering system, sometimes."
"It's okay, really."
"So....your father doesn't know about...?"
"Nobody in my family knows. Not anymore, at least. My mother knew, and was very supportive, but she died when I was fourteen."
"I'm so sorry."
"It's okay, but it was very difficult for me for a long time. I still think about her a lot. In fact, you remind me of her."
He opened his tablet and pulled up several photographs. They showed a slim young-looking Filipina woman who bore a strong resemblance to Dana, except her skin was a bit darker. In each photograph, she radiated a sense of joy.
"She seems so healthy and happy in the pictures. How did she die?"
"Heart attack." his eyes glistened. "It must have hit her suddenly. I was at school. She told the maid that she felt a little tired and was going to take a nap. An hour later the maid looked in on her and she didn't appear to be breathing. The hospital called it a myocardial infarction." Gabriel shrugged. "After that, I knew I had to get out of there. I convinced my father to send me to prep school in America when I was sixteen. That experience was hell all by itself, but at least, I was out of the PI."
"I went to Stanford on scholarship, struggled with my self-identity, and finally met a friend who helped me get into a gender studies program. Of course, I could never tell my father about that, but he rarely saw me, as by then he had a new wife and lots of other things to keep him busy."
"I was afraid to pull the trigger on SRS. I mean, I knew what I wanted to be, but I was terrified of telling my father. I was becoming self-destructive. I was hiding my emotions behind a haze of drugs, and getting into some weird stuff. I knew I would never be able to deal with my father, so I was becoming resigned to the gray little box that my life would become. So I figured that at least I could ease the pain a little bit on the way. I got offered several internships, and one was here. I figured Hollywood was the perfect place to get wasted and party until I either OD'd, or graduated, whichever came first. Then I met the Sharps."
His voice took on a reverential tone.
"Mistress looked into my soul and helped me see myself as someone of value. I did not become their slave that summer. I wanted to be, I begged them not to make me go back to Stanford. They were firm and I folded. I went back and counted the days. When I came back after graduation, I knew what I wanted. I bought a collar and presented it to them the first night. I have never been happier."
"Not by choice. I am going because they want me to study in Europe. there is a burgeoning market of films in eastern Europe that they are thinking of investing in. They also have another, a more personal task for me, but I can't talk about that."
Dana spent the drive home digesting Gabriel's story and wondering what Sloan's day had been like.
"Before we begin, Sloan...we need to pick a name for you."
"Why can't I just use my own name? I know it can be used by a man or a woman."
She sighed, "Silly girl...think for a moment. My husband must never be told that you are Sloan Taylor, husband of Dana Taylor, and an actor trying to get a foot in his door. Have you any idea how many people try to worm their way into his presence in the hope that he will give them a part?"
She frowned at him, a look he would get used to in the days ahead. Her frown conveyed a mixture of sadness, disappointment, and frustration. It made him feel like a dull-witted schoolboy who got called into the headmaster's office for cheating on a test.
"I know what you have heard about us. We have a reputation for some rather unorthodox proclivities in both our public and private lives. I am sure that you have heard that we both enjoy some bondage and other kinky sexual acts with many of the people we work with."
He wasn't sure how to respond so he just said, "Okay"
"We are both very dominating personalities. We like to be in control and have to manipulate the things around us to maintain the illusion of control because we are each intelligent enough to understand that control is just an illusion. Nobody ever has control, not really. We just struggle to create that illusion. Understand?"
"I think so" he nodded
"Films are a perfect outlet for us. We manipulate the cast, the crew, the script, everything into a set of mini-scenarios in which we feel as if we are in control. When things go wrong, as they often do, we need to regroup and take charge. For Matt, that means that if a scene messes up and begins to frustrate him, he needs to step back and play with one of our subs so that he can regain that feeling of control. Once he regains that feeling, he can resume the film."
"Submissive people...pets...sexual play toys...whatever you like to call them."
Sloan gulped at the matter-of-fact way that she described it to him...all the while feeling himself becoming aroused. "Uhmmm..."
She smirked at his blush. "No darling, we are not the type to force a submissive little morsel like yourself to serve us. We are much more insidious than that."
He gave her a look of confusion as his blush deepened.
"Come, come, you silly girl...I am trying to be bluntly honest here. While we certainly enjoy the idea of introducing new people into our fun and games, we do not need to force anyone to play with us."
She made a low, sexy giggle at his obvious discomfort.
"The point of my telling you this is to point out that we have had more than our share of offers from actors and actresses who are looking for a helping hand to boost their careers. How many gorgeous and sexy men and women in this town do you think would be willing to commit unspeakable acts of depravity for the chance we are giving you?"
Sloan considered her statement. He had to agree that there would be hundreds, maybe even thousands.
"Just ask your agent..." She made a distasteful face, "...if his buddy Marco has anything for you. I bet you a thousand dollars that he will get you ass-fucked within a week. I know pretty much everyone even vaguely connected to this industry. Marco even approached Matt about directing and/or financing some rather...esoteric films for selected clients of his. That's one of the downsides of our lifestyle, people think that anything that is not mainstream is porn, and anyone not mainstream is as twisted and depraved as they are."
She snapped immediately back to the business at hand.
"So, what should we name you?"
She threw out several choices before selecting Taylor Sloane with an e. She felt that this would be easy for him to respond to, and would make it easier to cover up if he introduced himself as either Sloan or Taylor since it would be easy for him to cover the faux pas as either a first or last name. He was surprisingly pleased with her choice.
Sloan then spent the remainder of his day being scolded and molded by Danielle Sharp. It was very trying, and she was a severe task-mistress. She lectured him on proper ways to move, sit, walk, stand (pose really), speak, gesture, every minor nuance of appearing feminine.
Sloan had never really studied the female form and mannerisms before. As a male actor, he never really felt the need to. It was surprising for him to note that so many of them were a counterbalance to those of men. A man offered a firm handshake and solid greeting with eye contact. It was as much a challenge between them as a greeting. They held themselves back and sized each other up, almost as if they were squaring off as competitors.
Women, by comparison, offered a light brush of fingers, lots of physical contact, maybe an air kiss. They spoke with mild and soft pleasantries while their eyes danced around, encompassing the entire person. They looked for, and found, common ground, interests, and shared feelings.
When he truly examined them objectively, he realized that men did not so much greet each other, as confront each other. That is not to say that women were not sizing each other up, nor would he say that they were non-competitive. It was just widely different in the way that they approached each other.
In many ways, it was as if men met and said 'I am ready for animosity, but will settle for friendship' while women said 'I am ready for friendship, but will settle for animosity'. They may each get the same results in the end, but they approached it from different directions.
It became clear to him that this counterpoint approach continued through almost all mannerisms. Something as simple as how the hands were used while speaking, the inclination of the head, a raised eyebrow, carried widely different meanings when used by a man or a woman. In many ways, these nuances complimented each other. They fit.
Sloan had always been cognizant of these things on a subconscious level but had never really consciously examined them before. Danielle Sharp forced him to examine them now, and she was harsh in her critique as she demanded that he practice various subtle mannerisms until she was satisfied.
Once, in the beginning, he became irritated with her and allowed it to show. She had just corrected his posture with a scathing verbal rebuke, as he walked across the room for the umpteenth time, and he actually glowered at her before biting off an angry retort.
"Don't you dare give me that look, Missy!" she thundered as she strode angrily to face him. "My time for a single hour is far more valuable than you make in a month! Dana vouched for your professionalism, your talent, and your commitment. I will not waste my time on an ungrateful, petulant little bitch who cannot even try to validate my sufferance with even a modicum of her own effort!"
Danielle seemed to tower over Sloan as he felt almost diminished by her looming presence. His anger vanished in fear, then in embarrassment as she questioned his acting skills. He knew that every word she had spoken was true. He might have reason to question her agenda, lord knew he had lots of questions about that, but he had no questions about the rest. She may have ulterior motives, but he truly felt that he needed her help to get this role.
"I...I'm sorry, Miss...Ms. Sharp"
She looked at him as if he were a worm, her gaze seemed to measure him, and find him wanting. He could not help feeling as if she considered him unworthy of her efforts.
"Do it again, Taylor. And hold your head up, this time...MY GOD, stop swaying like a drunken sailor.....LADYLIKE!"
By the end of the day, Sloan's body was aching, and his feet were killing him. 'How can people wear heels all day long and not end up in a wheelchair?', he wondered. Danielle had worn him out physically and emotionally.
By the end of the afternoon, as darkness descended through the windows of her office, he was responding eagerly to even the slightest hint of praise. His reactions had run an emotional gamut for most of the day as he was both attracted and repulsed by Danielle Sharp's personality. On the one hand, he found her to be mercilessly exacting. She had demanded perfection and was completely unwilling to accept anything less. Sloan had always considered himself to be a perfectionist where his craft was concerned, but she forced him to push himself to even greater effort. When he failed to achieve her standards, her rebuke was almost physically painful.
Not that she actually struck him. No, she was not physically abusive, but she did give him detailed accounts of what she would do to him if he had been one of her 'subs', as she called them.
"MY GOD, how inept can you possibly be?" she remonstrated, on one occasion. "I swear if you were one of my girls I would bend you over my desk and spank your little ass with a leather strap until you squealed like a little pig!"
He found her polarity extremely arousing, and many times during their day, she had been almost flirtatious as he practiced with her. She was also very tactile, touching him briefly as she hovered around, correcting his posture or demonstrating how to move 'just so'. He also found that when she got into his personal space, her scent, her touch, and her sexual vibrancy made it very difficult for him to concentrate, or to hide the burgeoning evidence of her effect on him.
More than once he had felt the need to excuse himself to the restroom in order to 'get a handle' on his problem, as it were. Each time, she had found some way to put a damper on his feelings as if she knew exactly what he was trying to do. In fact, when he finally did get a restroom break, she had sent him with her secretary to get lunch. Sloan had been forced to use the ladies room and been frustrated when Bobbie, the secretary, had accompanied him.
When Ms. Sharp had finally announced that the lessons were done for the day, Sloan began gathering his things. He suddenly realized that he had not seen his wife since the morning. He had ridden into the studio with her, and was now wondering if she was still there, or had she already gone home? He felt a momentary panic as he wondered about what Dana and Matt Sharp had been up to while Danielle Sharp had been heightening Sloan's own sexual frustration.
Taking out his phone, Sloan hit Dana's number and she didn't pick up, the call going to her voice mail. he left a message, then fretted over what to do.
Noticing his unease, Danielle picked up her phone and hit a number.
"Hi baby, is Dana with you? Her...husband just came by the studio looking for her."
She listened for a few seconds.
"OH? I didn't know about that. No-no. I'm sure it will be fine"
She listened some more.
"OK baby, I'll tell him...just a sec..."
She held the phone to her chest.
"Matt says that she is with Gabriel at the moment dealing with some scheduling issues. He said the three of them are supposed to be meeting for a working dinner at 9:00. and she should be home around 11:00. Apparently she left her keys with Bobbie so you can get home and he says not to worry as he will drop Dana off after dinner, okay?"
Sloan didn't feel okay, but he was clueless about how to respond. He stared at her dully. Danielle held his gaze for a few moments, then put the phone back to her ear.
"Baby? That's fine, but ask Dana to call her husband as soon as she has a moment. No, darling. He isn't upset.
I'm sure he understands that things are going to be hectic for a while. Uh huh. love you, too. Kisses to Gabi, I will be pretty late as I'm going to Gemma's tonight. I know. I will, and you take extra special care of her cute little ass, you hear me?"
Danielle laughed, sending shivers down Sloan's spine.
"Fuck her hard and make her squirm for me, you hot stud...ciao!"
She placed her phone back down and pressed the intercom, her secretary opened the door.
"Yes, Ms. Sharp?"
"Did Dana Taylor leave some keys with you, Bobbie?"
"Yes Miss, she said to give them to her....friend, Ms. Sloane before she left. I also have Ms. Sloane's ID badge and the envelope that you asked for."
"Thank you, Bobbie, leave them on your desk. She will be right out to pick them up. Have my car brought around and you may leave for the day."
"Yes, Ms. Sharp"
As Sloan stood there, at a loss for words, Danielle gave him a sympathetic expression.
He started slightly as she broke the spell of numbness that seemed to have enveloped him.
"Taylor, my sweet girl, look at me and listen."
He met her eyes with his own, though her icy blue orbs were clear, his own were puffy and somewhat blurred.
"I know that your mind is filled with every imaginable erotic and sexual innuendo that it can come up with, but please believe that nothing could be further from the truth. I want you to go to Bobbie's desk and pick up Dana's keys as well as the other things that are there for you. While you are out there, have a word with your agent about his mishandling of your career." She gave Sloan a meaningful look. "I need to make a call. Be back here in fifteen minutes. Do you understand? "
Sloan nodded, then did as he was told. When he returned, after a stressful chat with his former agent, he found Danielle sitting on the sofa sipping a glass of wine as she waved for him to sit down opposite her. She seemed to consider her words carefully before she spoke.
"My husband could snap his fingers and have any woman he wants, and most men as well. We both know this is true, right?"
Sloan hesitated, his face twisting a bit in anguish before he finally nodded.
"This is a promise from me...from both of us, really. Neither Matt, nor I will ever do anything to your wife, or to you, that you do not want us to. Understand?"
Before he could form an answer, she made a small frown, "No. Wait a moment. Let me re-phrase that. We will do nothing to either of you that you do not both beg us to do."
She cocked her head and her lips curled slightly as though she had found the exact right thing to say.
"Now, do you understand?"
Sloan hesitated, then nodded slightly, although he groaned inwardly as her words seemed to open up a veritable minefield of possible dangers.
When Sloan arrived home, he had yet to hear from Dana. He removed his make-up before taking a long, hot bath. Despite Danielle Sharp's reassurances, he could not help the way his mind scattered onto the tangent of every erotic and depraved option that he could imagine.
As he soaked in the steaming bath, he submerged his head beneath the water and felt almost as if he were drowning. It was as if the bathtub were an ocean and he was struggling to remain afloat. Several times he considered calling or texting Dana, twice he even went so far as to reach for the phone.
Each time, he remembered the one-sided call between Danielle and Matt Sharp. He did not want to add pressure to her or do anything that might jeopardize this opportunity for her. he knew that he only had two choices. he could trust his wife or panic. If he panicked, he would most likely lose her. If he trusted her and she betrayed him, their marriage might not survive, either.
His biggest fear was also a source of guilt. What if they both allowed themselves to be drawn into this frightening, but exciting and evocative world? Could they ever hold their marriage together if they allowed themselves to enter into a relationship with the older, dominant couple? He desperately needed to talk about it with his wife, but he was so afraid of how she would react, especially if she knew about the deeper feelings that were troubling him.
He completed his bath and idly rubbed in moisturizer as his mind continued to wrestle with his dilemma. After putting on a soft chemise, he slipped into bed with his mind a maelstrom of emotions, fears, and desires.
It was almost midnight when Dana arrived home. It had been a whirlwind day for her as she familiarized herself with her new duties at Dark Fantasy. The logistics of making a film were something that she had thought that she understood, but the associated problems were compounded exponentially when the film in question was a big-budget motion picture. It was tedious, demanding, exhausting, and exhilarating all at the same time.
Pressing harder on her mind was the fact that she knew that she and Sloan were being groomed by the Sharps for a lot more than a job. She had barely had contact with Matt Sharp before the dinner meeting, and he had remained dispassionately professional in every exchange, but she could feel the tension, the charged atmosphere, that permeated her being when she was around him. The feeling was almost suffocating.
During the day, Gabriel had been both accommodating and exasperating whenever the topic turned to the Sharps' personal life. It was easy for him to elaborate on the broader aspects of their lifestyle, making it sound almost mainstream. He loved them, he loved the things that he had learned from them, both personally and professionally. What was lacking was any insight into their personalities beyond their professional lives and their sexual lifestyle choice. One thing was abundantly clear, he was completely loyal to his 'Master and Mistress', as he referred to them.
Dana unlocked the door, turning to thank Matt for the ride home as he stood close behind her. He didn't crowd her, but his presence seemed to do so as she had to fight the fluttering of her heart. He had been a perfect gentleman all evening. While she had tried to make idle chat on the drive home, her mind seemed sluggish and detached after the grueling day.
"Thank you, Mr. Sharp. You didn't have to walk me up."
"It isn't safe for a woman to walk alone this late, it was no bother."
"Thank you..." she repeated, dumbly. "...I really appreciate everything..."
She lost the thread and took a deep breath, which was a huge mistake as she was inundated by his masculine scent.
"Dana, I have three things I need to tell you." He held her with his gaze. "First, I am completely confident in your ability to fulfill your duties in every way."
She shivered as she considered which duties he was referring to. He made a sardonic smile as if reading her mind.
"I mean your duties as my assistant, my dear."
She blushed scarlet.
"Second, I am looking forward to building a strong working relationship with you, as I believe you have the ability to make your own name in this business."
Holding her gaze, steadily, he raised one eyebrow until she nodded her understanding.
"Lastly, I do not want you to dwell too much on the other things that you have learned about my wife, and myself. Whatever you might think of our lifestyle, we do not impose our will on those who do not specifically ask us to." He chuckled, "No pressure, okay?"
She struggled to form a response but realized by his look that he was expecting her to say something.
His face lit up with a megawatt smile. "Good girl!"
As she began to close the door, he added, "Oh, by the way, I almost forgot. Danielle asked me to have you call her as soon as you get home. OK?"
"Yes, Sir. Thank you!"
"Good night, then."
At that very moment, across town, another mind was busy contemplating loyalty. Bobbie Deihl had been working for Danielle Sharp for almost a year. She liked her job. It was interesting to see a side of the movie business that most people were unaware of. She saw, and heard, things that would shock most of the patrons that attended the studio's films. This insider knowledge was often valuable, but it also tended to have a very limited shelf-life.
The source of her current dilemma was 'Taylor Sloane', the new personal assistant that Danielle Sharp had suddenly hired. While Taylor might be able to pass as a woman, Bobbie had been the one to file the HR information and credentials he/she would need. The hiring of an apparently transitioning transsexual was not that big of a deal in the film industry, but the circumstances surrounding the hire were very noteworthy.
1. Danielle had not needed a PA before this week, as she and her husband shared Gabriel/Gabi. Bobbie was aware of the relationship there and had profited, at times, by sharing a few salacious details with an assortment of gossip rags, for a nominal fee, of course.
2. The Sharps were making a film about a transsexual/transgendered hit man. That could justify the hire as a background consultant to share insight for realism in the film, but the third reason canceled out that idea.
3. The Sharps had fired Brandin Jessup from a film that was about to go into production. You never went into production without all your major players lined up. Oh sure, you could shoot around an actor that had an injury or illness, or one who had been delayed by some other crisis, but you already knew who the actor was. In this case, no other actors had even auditioned.
4, There was no evidence that the company was putting the project on hold. Quite the opposite. It was not that unusual for a film project that ran into a serious problem during pre-production to be shelved then dusted off and possibly re-shelved again over a number of years. The industry was all about timing, having the right director, script, cast, and crew all available at the same time. In this case, the company seemed completely invested in Soft Kill.
The most obvious answer was that they had chosen Sloan Taylor (she had had little trouble pulling his resume and SAG-AFTRA info by typing it into the studio database) to play the role. Since nothing had, as yet, been officially announced about it, it should be extremely valuable information. Her only real dilemma was not so much one of loyalty, as it was of placing a monetary value upon it.
"I may know who is replacing Brandin Jessup in Soft Kill."
She left the same voice message with several gossip columnists, asking them how much they were willing to pay for the name of the actor chosen to replace Brandin Jessup in Soft Kill. As her phone lit up with the first call, she thought to herself, 'Let the bidding begin.'
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