Home > Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(4)

Work in Progress (Red Lipstick Coalition #3)(4)
Author: Staci Hart

She had been stunned, the small, colorless girl with eyes so wide, the irises were ringed in white.

No, not colorless. She was composed of shades of porcelain and sunshine; the gleam of her platinum hair, unfussed, long and natural; her skin, creamy and smooth, tinged with the slightest pink at her cheeks, though the color rose to crimson in the span of a few heartbeats when faced with the likes of me. Her eyes were blue—so light, they were almost silver—wide and big, as if they wanted to drink in the whole world, as long as it was from a safe distance.

The size of her was enamoring, like a pocket-sized girl, a tiny thing to fit in the palm of your hand. Delicate. Breakable. Soft and gentle, like a snow-white sparrow. When I’d tucked her under my arm for the photo, I’d felt the urge to keep her there, where she’d be safe from clumsy hands.

Amelia Hall.

I’d read all her reviews—I couldn’t help it—and she was always right. I’d meant what I said to her. Every time I published a book, I hoped I’d finally win her over.

I had been disappointed every time. I’d considered asking her to be on my team a dozen times, but Theo always said no—too dangerous to let anybody in. But our meeting today had sealed the deal. Not only had she disarmed me with her nerves and the delectable way she squirmed under my attention, but she’d fired back with unexpected heat and fervency, sparking something in me, plucking a creative string that reverberated ideas and inspiration.

While I was writing, Amelia Hall would whisper in the back of my mind, her presence pressing me to take a harder look at my stories. If that had happened strictly through her reviews, I couldn’t fathom how she would affect me while working by my side.

It was like I had this big, fat blind spot that she’d point at after the car already crashed. But not this time. This time, she’d be right there to give me a solid slap if I was going the wrong way on a one-way street.

The first item of business would be to get some semblance of a story together. I was a perfectionist, which was part of the reason I had a stack of manuscripts that would never make it past twenty thousand words and should never see the light of day. Every day, I sat down to write. Every day, I walked away with jack shit.

I’d never had a muse, but I’d always wanted one. And today, with Amelia Hall shooting down my heroes like tin cans, I felt like she might become mine.

My thoughts finally landed on something I could give voice. “When we talked about my story, I felt inspired. It was a sense of possibility, a sense of understanding. When I think about my stories, it’s like…it’s like playing tag in the fog. The ideas are there, but the second I reach out to grab them, they’re gone. But talking to her was like a break in the clouds. I thought for a second I could see.” I took another swig. “How’s that for writer-y, Teddy?”

“Passable,” he offered.

My smile hitched up on one side. “Send her the NDA, would you?”

“Yeah, all right,” he conceded. “I think she should come here. I wanna meet her, and I don’t want any of your manuscripts emailed.”

“Sure,” I started, unsurprised by his suspicion. “Have her come to the house in the morning, if she’s around.”

Theo’s phone appeared in his hand like magic, his gaze dropping to the screen along with his attention. “I’m on it.”

My brother, jack of all trades. He was my manager, my publicist, my assistant, and a pain in my ass. He also happened to be my best friend, but I wouldn’t admit it to him, even under duress.

He wandered back toward the living room, absorbed in the slab of titanium and silicone in his hand.

“How are you really, baby?” Ma asked gently, her accent—the one I tried so hard to hide—betraying our Bronx roots.

I met her soft, dark eyes and felt my resolve crack. “I’m okay. How are you?”

She chuckled. “Oh, no. Nice try. You’re not turning it around on me.” She watched me for a beat. “You really think she can help you?”

“I do,” I answered honestly. “A new perspective will do me good. I’m one breakthrough away from everything being peachy keen.”

“I just worry,” she said, looking down at her hands where they rested on one another on the granite surface. The top hand trembled. We watched it without acknowledgment.

“I know, Ma. But I’m telling you not to. I’m gonna figure this book out and make Blackbird a dump truck full of hundred-dollar bills.”

“And you’re not gonna get in any trouble,” she added.

My smile was back, irreverent and cocksure as always. “You say that like it’s impossible to imagine.”

That earned me a laugh. “And you say that like I didn’t raise you. You and your brother were the angel and the devil, day and night. My straight arrow and my rule-breaker. I’ve never met a more stubborn kid. Or one so eager to find trouble.”

“I’d argue that trouble found me.”

“You’d argue the paint off a wall, Tommy,” she said on a chuckle. “And you’d muscle your way into a fight in a heartbeat.”

“Hey, it’s not my fault I have a sour taste for assholes.”

“Like Paulie Russo?”

My face pinched in distaste, a surge of anger rising at the mention of his name. “Paulie Russo was a stupid piece of shit who liked to make himself feel big by beating up on Jenny Costa. It’s not my fault he ran into my fist at prom.”

Her face flattened. “I’m sure Jenny appreciated that, but you almost got kicked out of school. It nearly cost you your diploma. And history repeats itself, honey. You almost lost your career because half of America thinks you’re a Nazi.”

That surge of anger roared to a tsunami in my chest at the mention of the coup de grâce of bullshit lies. “God, I will never hear the end of this, not in a hundred years. I broke a skinhead’s nose. How am I not a goddamn national treasure?”

“I know you had nothin’ to do with them. There was no way you coulda known when you drunk stumbled on them in Washington Square that they were white supremacists—”

“Half of them were in suits! It’s not like they walk around wearing swastikas.”

“I know,” she soothed.

“And I stopped to listen, wondering what they were on about. I mean, there were cops everywhere, just waiting for them to step outta line. I shoulda known to keep walking.”

“And not to run your mouth to a skinhead.”

I frowned. “That son of a bitch deserved that broken nose and the two black eyes. He deserved worse than that.”

“I mean, honey, you started a riot.”

“He hit me,” I argued.

“And you got arrested at a rally. Of course the papers ran with it.” She shook her head, the furrows in her brow deep. “You can justify anything, and I’m not saying you were in the wrong.”

“Well, good, because I wasn’t,” I shot without heat.

“I’m just saying, you don’t know when to walk away from a fight.”

“It pisses me off not to do the right thing. And if I get hit? I don’t have it in me to just walk away from that, Ma. Know thyself.” I shook my head. “This is why nobody knows anything about me. I don’t want them to put their dirty hands on my life and my past because the truth doesn’t matter. They’ll make up whatever story sells magazines, whether it’s true or not. So instead, I give them all the fake relationships they desire to vomit back up on TMZ.”

She drew a breath and let it out in a sigh that weighed a thousand pounds. “But that’s my point. It didn’t matter if you did the right thing or not, and you were dropped by your publisher and all your sponsors. TAG is the first company willing to touch you in two years.” She reached for my hand. “Your life is public, and you chose that path—”

“Because I can control the narrative this way—”

“But that means that what you do matters. What you say matters even if it’s phony. I know this was how you boys decided to kick-start your career. A boy like you with a face like that dates a famous actress, and people want to know you. Smoke screen your life so you can hide your truth. I get it—but you put yourself out there.”

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