“Eyes.” The makeup artist used the word as a verb.
I closed my eyes and waited for the spritzing to commence. She spritzed the setting spray on my face.
“All good,” she said.
I opened my eyes and looked at my reflection in the mirror. Today was the last day of shooting. I couldn’t wait to be done with the makeup chair. Each day of shooting, it felt like I spent more time in the chair. It was a romantic comedy/action. My character was sporting some cuts and bruises which required time in the chair. I didn’t know how the women did it. They had their days of normal makeup and then extra time trying to look haggard and beautiful at the same time.
“Thanks, Carla,” I said and climbed out of the chair. “No offense, but I hope we don’t have to see each other for a while.”
She laughed and reached up to fix a chunk of my hair. “I take no offense. You’ve been through it this shoot. Let’s keep our fingers crossed there are no reshoots.”
I groaned and rolled my shoulders. The shirt I was wearing was torn and splattered with blood. It was one of many I had that looked exactly the same. I extended my hand. “Until the next movie,” I said and shook her hand. “I would hug you, but you’d kick my ass for messing up the makeup.”
“Oh honey, that’s not coming off with a hug,” she teased. “You’ll need a sandblaster.”
I left the makeup trailer and walked to my own private trailer on the busy set. I stepped inside the luxury trailer that looked like a home on wheels with the sleek finishings and normal-sized couch and a recliner. I opened the fridge and grabbed a soda before sitting down and waiting for my presence to be needed on set.
The door opened just as I sat down. My brother stepped in. He never knocked. “One of these days you are going to walk in on me doing something.”
“Like eating?” He smirked and flopped into the recliner. “We both know you wouldn’t dare bring a woman in here.”
“You won’t,” he said, shrugging.
“Still, knock. Act like you’ve got some manners.”
“Whatever,” he said, shrugging. “Guess what?”
“That’s the dumbest question anyone can ask,” I muttered. “Honestly, there are an infinite number of possibilities. How in the hell is anyone ever supposed to guess what someone is thinking?”
He frowned at me. “You’re in a mood.”
“I’m tired. I’m so ready to be done with this shoot. I want to go home, lock the door, and turn off the phone.”
“Too bad you’re going to London,” he said, grinning.
“No.” I shook my head. “I’m taking a break. I’m fucking exhausted. This is my third movie in a year. I can’t. I won’t. I swear, I will go into hiding so deep not even you’ll find me.”
He laughed and leaned back in the recliner. “It’s not a movie. You won’t even have to do press. This is a party.”
I rolled my eyes. “An appearance.”
“No, no.” He shook his head. “It’s a masquerade ball.”
I stared at him, trying to determine if my big brother was giving me shit or if he was being serious. “A masquerade ball?”
He grinned. “Masked in Love!”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“It’s a Valentine’s Day theme,” he said.
Again, I was pretty sure he was fucking with me. He knew I had demanded some downtime after the movie wrapped. He knew I was exhausted and burned out. I wanted to kick back and relax. “No,” I said firmly.
“You’re going to change your mind when you hear who is hosting,” he teased.
I supposed that was one of the downsides of being an A-lister for ten-plus years. I had met my heroes. Most were disappointments. I had partied with everyone that was someone. It just didn’t hold the same appeal. There were so many better things I wanted to do.
“Benjamin Halling.” He dropped the name of one the biggest names in the tech world. The guy was thirty years old, had more money than God, and had been blessed with good looks. He had a reputation. He was a serial womanizer, dating every top model and beautiful celebrity in the world. Rumor had it, he’d even been involved with some royal ladies. His parties were filled with the who’s who in the world. Beautiful women were always in attendance, which would be the draw for my brother.
“Aaron, no,” I said. “Go if you want to. I don’t want to go. Where is it anyway? Bahamas? Hawaii? I know Ben isn’t trying to stay anywhere cold.”
“Actually, London,” he replied. “At his castle.”
I rolled my eyes. “Of course.”
“You have to go,” he insisted. “You were officially invited. That’s not something you ignore. You can’t use the excuse you’re too busy filming. He’s a huge funder of this film. He knows when it’s wrapped. You piss him off and it’s game over. He’ll destroy your career. All he has to do is make one phone call and every studio will drop you like a hot potato. And there’s the whole fun thing. You said you wanted to relax before you start your next movie. This is the perfect way to do that.”
“Going to a party is exactly what I don’t want,” I argued.
“Come on,” he pleaded. “I picked you up from the dentist last week when I was on a date. I walked away from a very, very attractive woman to pick you up.”
“How is that even the same?” I asked with incredulity. “I was at the dentist getting a tooth fixed after it was cracked during a stunt. I was high as a fucking kite. Did you want me to call a cab?”
“No, but I’m just saying I was there for you, and now it’s your turn to be here for me,” he said, shrugging.
“So not the same,” I muttered. “I don’t want to go to a party. It’s just going to start more rumors. I plan on taking a month off and everyone is going to assume I ran off with the woman and got married. You’ll be doing damage control forever. Is that really what you want?”
He held up a finger with a big grin on his face, which said he had a plan. His plans were notoriously bad. Worse than bad. The kind of plans you never wanted to be a part of. “First of all, it’s a masquerade ball. No one will know you’re there.”
“You know that’s bullshit,” I said. “You’ll probably leak it yourself.”
“Secondly,” he went on while ignoring my comment. “I’ll get you a date. Someone that will not give you any trouble. Someone nobody knows. And she will also be wearing a mask. You’ll get to enjoy a party with no one the wiser. Plus, it’s a Halling party. No phones. No cameras. No one is going to say a word.”
“Valentino,” he replied with my given name. I never used it. I had no idea what possessed my parents to go with such a formal name.
“I’ll get us dates,” he said. “We’re going.”
I didn’t get the chance to argue with him. There was a knock on the trailer door. He got up to answer it to find the director’s assistant. “We’re ready for you,” she said.
“Thank you, I’ll be right there.”
I got up from the couch and took a last drink of soda before popping in a couple of breath mints. I had a kissing scene and respected my leading lady enough not to show up with stinky breath.
“I’ll make the arrangements,” Aaron said.
“You seriously aren’t going to take no for an answer, are you?” I asked with a sigh.
“I’m really not,” he said. “This is going to be good for you. You need to loosen up. This film is kicking your ass—literally. I can’t tell if that’s a real bruise or a fake one.”
“Neither can I,” I muttered. “No more action films for me. I’m not cut out for this shit.”
He was laughing as I walked out of the trailer. I hopped in the golf cart with the waiting assistant and let her drive me to the area of the massive set I was going to be filming in. The area was bustling with activity. My leading lady was going over her script with her assistant. The director was talking to the camera guys, setting up the shot. Hair and makeup were coming at me. I had been out of the chair for less than thirty minutes and apparently needed touch-ups.
“Hey.” Cara waved me over.
“How’s it going?” I asked the actress playing my love interest in the film.
“Good,” she said. “I’m exhausted. Let’s hope we can get this done in one take. I don’t know about you, but I could use a drink and a week off.”
“I was thinking more like a month or three,” I said, grinning.
The director called out for everyone to get in their places. We knew our lines well. Cara was a professional. She had been in the business since she was a child. Cara was one of the few child actors that survived Hollywood and had maintained her position at the top of the food chain. It wasn’t easy for anyone to do, but through her hard work, she did it. And she avoided scandals.
“Cut!” The director called out the magic word. Cara and I both turned to watch him as he watched the replay.
“It was good,” Cara whispered. “We’re good.”
The last scene we had to shoot was actually going to be in the middle of the movie. It was a somber scene that involved a kiss. It was easy enough.
“That’s a wrap!” the director shouted out the wrap to the movie. It was over. I was done.
Cara threw her arms around me. “Good job,” she said. “It’s been a pleasure to work with someone that isn’t more worried about partying than working. I hope we can do something together again.”
“I’d like that,” I said and gave her a kiss on the cheek.
“I have a feeling I’m going to be in a long line of actresses that want to work with you,” she said, laughing. “After all, you are the sexiest man alive, and now, the most eligible, desirable bachelor in the country.”
I shook my head. “You know that’s all a bunch of bullshit.”
She winked and flashed me a smile. “Enjoy it while you can. One day you’re going to wake up and be irrelevant. That’s a fate worse than death for an actor.”
I was dropped off near my trailer. A lot of my colleagues felt being irrelevant was devastating. I was having a hard time buying into that. I was exhausted. I was having a hard time seeing the downside to being able to go to dinner without anyone noticing. Walking my dog without people screaming my name. Not that I had a dog, but I wanted one. I just couldn’t figure out how it would be fair to a dog for the owner to be gone ten months out of the year.
When I walked into my trailer, the magazine Cara had referenced was sitting on the table along with a large gift basket of fruit, cheese, and a bottle of wine from the publisher. My face was on the cover. I was humiliated I even agreed to do the shoot. I knew a lot of my regrets were my own fault. I knew how to say no. I just found myself being pushed one way or another. Thankfully, Aaron was a little more honest and trustworthy than some other managers in the business, but he still booked me for things I would normally reject. Like being named the most eligible bachelor in the country.
I couldn’t complain to anyone. I would sound like a jackass. Aaron knew how I felt, but that was as far as it went. I had the world at my fingertips and I wanted more. That was how people would see it. That was not exactly what I wanted. My dream was to make movies without being in front of the camera. I felt like my work was overshadowed by the gossip. I wanted to be taken seriously. Directing would get my face off the pages and my work could be seen without me being ogled.