Chapter One

 

“WHENEVER YOU’RE ready,” the casting director called from her chair in the back corner.

Drew shot her a tight smile and steeled himself. They were nearing the end of the list of prospective costars, and the prospects hadn’t gotten any better as the day wore on. Drew didn’t have a great feeling about this guy either.

But even he couldn’t do a whole movie by himself, so he closed his eyes and reached for the small, goofy, irreverent, dumb space inside him that was quickly transforming into the character of Scotty Green.

“She took his dog, Morgan.” Drew injected a little melodrama and a lot of camp into his exasperation. “Tony is overseas, literally fighting for our freedom—”

The nobody actor across from him completely missed his cue. Drew didn’t break character.

“—and she moves to Vegas with that skank Matthew and takes his dog? That’s not right.”

“He is literally drilling for oil in Saudi Arabia,” the poor helpless idiot in the chair across from Drew finally said.

God. This was the fourth time he’d screwed it up, even with direction.

Drew opened his mouth to ad-lib his next line, because the script wouldn’t work anymore, but thankfully Hilary yelled, “All right, cut.”

He glanced over. She was slumped in her chair with one perfectly manicured hand covering most of her face, her fingers delicately splayed. She was going to wrinkle her suit sitting like that. “Steve, can you… do something?”

Drew looked at the man sitting opposite him, trying to judge whether this was Steve. Probably not. He’d already taken out his phone and seemed to be attempting to covertly take a picture of Drew while pretending to play Candy Crush.

Drew fought the urge to mimic Hilary’s posture. This was a small production with a limited budget, and he was just going to have to get used to less-than-ideal working conditions, including less-talented costars. He was not going to do anything to make anyone call him a diva.

Even if he really wanted a Perrier and a security guard to divest this amateur of his phone.

“Yeah, all right,” the guy next to Hilary said in a smooth, confident tenor. He got up and immediately caught Drew’s eye. Short blond hair with a neat goatee, a slightly crooked nose, smallish, sharp blue eyes, really well-fitted jeans. But it was the easy confidence in his stride that captured Drew’s attention. He stopped in front of Cell Phone and held out his hand. “You mind?”

Cell Phone gaped at him a little but handed the phone over without complaint, then vacated the chair when Steve nodded toward the wall.

Steve slipped the phone into his pocket. “You want us to go from the top?” he called to Hilary.

Hilary waved at him, presumably indicating “just get it over with.”

“We’re looking for something like this,” Steve explained, and then he rolled his shoulders—muscular ones under a soft-looking T-shirt—and morphed into someone else.

Drew was so taken aback that it took him a split second too long to remember his line. He stood up to cover. If Steve was going to stand for this, so would he. “She took his dog, Morgan,” he said, and the line that had lost all meaning after twentysomething repetitions suddenly felt important again. “Tony’s overseas literally fighting for people’s freedom—”

“He’s literally drilling for oil in Saudi Arabia,” Steve-as-Morgan interrupted, with a slight emphasis on literally.

Drew continued as if he hadn’t spoken, pacing an imaginary room as he gestured. “—and she runs off to Vegas with that skank Matthew and takes his dog? That’s low, man. What happens when Tony comes home?”

“Tony will deal with it like the grown adult he is?” Steve-as-Morgan said.

“Tony will break like an expired condom and we’ll be left picking up the pieces. You know he can’t stand up to Lila. And he loves that dog, man. I love that dog.”

“Of course he loves the dog.”

“She’s a good dog!” Drew said, building up steam. “She deserves better than this. Tony deserves better than this.”

Mogan-Steve, meanwhile, was trying to put on the brakes. “What exactly are you planning to do about it? It’s not like you can just drive to Vegas and kidnap a dog.”

Originally Drew had planned to play this like the epiphany occurred to him just now. But with the rhythm he and Steve had built up, he didn’t want to break stride. Instead he put on a winning smile and clapped Mason-Steve on the back. “Of course not,” he said, and waited for Steve to sag a little in relief before adding, “that’s a two-person job.”

Steve looked at him, and his mouth worked soundlessly for a moment. “Scotty,” he protested.

“Morgan,” Drew parroted, all puppy eyes. Then he whipped his phone out of his back pocket and called up a picture of Roxy. “Look at that face. How can you say no?”

That broke him—Morgan disappeared and Steve bit his lip in a vain attempt to ward off a grin. “Screw off,” he finally said, laughing in defeat. “I didn’t realize we were doing improv.”

Drew grinned back, inordinately pleased even though he’d broken them out of a good groove. “I figured a little practice can’t hurt. I don’t get to do comedy often.” And Steve had a nice laugh.

“Somehow I think you’ll do fine.” Steve nodded at the phone. “I can’t believe you still have that handy. That is who I think it is, right?”

Roxy the border collie had been Drew’s costar on his first big paying gig. He was eight. “My mom emailed it to me yesterday. Apparently my parents are thinking of getting a dog.” Roxy had long since crossed the rainbow bridge, but she was by far Drew’s favorite person to work with. “Anyway, uh, I don’t think we’ve been introduced. Drew Beaumont. Actor.”

“Actor, huh? You don’t say.” Steve shook his hand, eyes smiling even as he rolled them a little, presumably because everyone knew who Drew was. Steve had broad, callused palms, and ink stains on his long fingers. “Steven. Sopol. Everyone calls me Steve, though. I’m the writer.”

“No kidding? I love this script.” When he saw it in his agent’s office, scattered over her desk so she could make notes in hardcopy like it was 1992, he knew he wanted to star in it. He made his case when Hilary returned from lunch, late as usual, to find him snooping. She told him it didn’t have a production company and wasn’t even finished; he prodded and cajoled her until she made it happen anyway.

Okay, so maybe Drew was a little bit of a diva. But how often did an out bi actor get a role in a gay buddy comedy? If he had to use his fame for evil to do it, well, so be it.

“I just hope you still like it when I’m done writing it.” Steve took a step back and waved forward the guy he’d replaced. “All right, did that make things clearer for you? Ready to give it another go?”

Drew didn’t have a lot of hope as he reset himself for another run-through. Not for this guy, and not for the others waiting after him.

But he had an idea.

 

 

“WELL,” HILARY said when they finally closed the door to the audition room for good, with only the confirmed cast and crew inside. That meant Drew, Hilary, Steve, a couple of baby-faced kids fresh out of film school, and Nina Sanchez, who’d directed Drew when he was under four feet tall and who had agreed to do this movie even though she was technically retired.

Steve was going over something with the kids in the far corner of the room, which left Drew at the table with Hilary and Nina.

Hilary dropped her folder of annotated headshots and résumés on the table and let them fan out across the surface. “All right, I know good men are hard to find, but this is ridiculous.”

Nina snorted and started sorting through the papers, dividing them into piles. “Some of them weren’t completely terrible. But how do they not have chemistry with you? I’ve seen you get better reactions from inanimate objects.”

And that was Drew’s cue. “I thought one of them was pretty good, actually.” Across the room, Steve glanced up at him, as though he knew Drew was talking about him. He looked away again a second later, picking up the thread of his conversation with the newbies without missing a beat.

Nina raised her eyebrows so high they almost disappeared into her graying beehive, but she didn’t know Drew as well as Hilary did. Not anymore.

Hilary gave him a look. “Don’t.”

“What?” Drew said innocently. “Look, he knows the script, he’s easy on the eyes, he’s got great comedic timing, and his delivery is flat as a day-old Coke. He’s the perfect straight man.”

Hilary opened her mouth again and Drew waved her off. “You know what I mean. Nobody else even came close. We’re crunched for time and have basically no budget. Steve’s gonna have to stay on to finish the script and do any tweaking anyway, so we know he’s available. It’s fate.”

“He’s not an actor,” Nina pointed out as though this were a deal breaker.

“Actually he majored in theater in college,” Hilary said absently, tapping her index finger against the table. She was looking over at Steve now, a contemplative expression on her face.

Aha! Drew knew he couldn’t have been a total newbie. No one had that much natural talent. Also—“Wait, so you know him personally?”

Hilary pursed her lips like she’d bitten into a lemon. “He’s an old family friend.”

Excellent. “So you can get him to do it.”

“That’s not how friendships work!”

“Then you’re doing it wrong!”

Oops. Maybe Drew said that a little too loud, because Steve and the camera infants turned to look at him. Drew waved and gave a cheesy smile before turning back to Hilary and modulating his volume. “Look, this is his first writing credit, right?”

Hilary’s shoulders slumped. Drew was wearing her down. “First solo project, yeah. He’s a script doctor. Really good at his job. But he wants to be a writer.”

“Well, he’s a good writer too. But it won’t matter unless we have the right actor in this role.” Drew crossed his arms. “If he wants the movie to do well, it needs to be him.”

For a few tense seconds, Hilary held his gaze. Then she sighed and swept the headshots into a pile and shoved them back into their folder. “I’ll ask him,” she said grudgingly, and she turned to go talk to Steve.

Drew maturely refrained from a full-fledged fist pump, but Nina caught the miniature version and shook her head. “And I thought you were good at getting your way when you were ten.”

Drew batted his eyelashes and leaned over to kiss her cheek. He’d missed her. “You taught me everything I know.”

Fine. So he was an enormous diva. No one was going to argue with results.