Home > California Girls(2)

California Girls(2)
Author: Susan Mallery

Her gaze settled on the clock. No, she told herself. She couldn’t leave. She had a live show in fifteen minutes. She had to go on the air and act as if nothing was wrong, as if she were fine and the world hadn’t just fallen off its axis and into a black hole from which it would never escape.

She sucked in air, being careful not to hyperventilate, then hurried to the mirror. After flipping on the harsh, unforgiving lights, she studied herself for a second before reaching for a tissue, then concealer. She looked wide-eyed and shell-shocked. As if she’d just seen something horrific. Or maybe just experienced it. Dear God, she couldn’t do this.

“Finola?” Rochelle knocked once before entering. “They need you on set.”

Finola nodded without speaking. She added a little more powder, then took one more breath before forcing a smile. “I’m ready.”

Her assistant frowned. “What happened?”

“Nothing. I’m fine.”

“It’s something and it’s not fine.”

Finola faked another smile and hurried past her. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She made her way along the corridor toward the studio. She wove her way around false walls, backdrops and cables. The show’s producer smiled at her.

“Have you met Treasure yet? She’s gorgeous. I only saw her from a distance, but wow.”

Finola didn’t bother to say she had yet to meet the star. She’d been too busy watching her marriage collapse around her. Not that Treasure had asked for an intro—her request had been that they meet in front of the live audience so the experience “was more spontaneous.” As far as superstar demands went, it was easy and doable, and it beat one singer’s request for “six snow-white kittens to play with before I sing.”

Gary, the sound guy, handed her a small microphone. She clipped it on her jacket’s lapel while he snaked the thin cord over her shoulder. He clipped the battery pack to the waistband of her skirt.

Usually she joked about him touching her. Their friendly banter was a regular part of her “get ready” ritual. But today she couldn’t think of a single thing to say. And in eight minutes, that was going to be a big problem.

Breathe, she told herself. She would breathe and trust herself to know what she was doing. She’d done this show for nearly four years. She was good at it. She loved her work and she would be fine. If only she didn’t hear the echo of the screams she didn’t dare give in to.

Gary smoothed her jacket into place, winked at her and smiled. “You’re good to go, Finola.”

“Thank you.” She cleared her throat. “Testing, testing.”

The mike would have already been checked, but she always confirmed it was working.

Gary gave her a thumbs-up before handing over the earpiece that would connect her with the control room. Theirs wasn’t a news show, so she wasn’t getting breaking information, but she still needed to be linked to the control room in case a major story broke. Then she would be able to smoothly transition her viewers to the fact that New York was going to interrupt the show.

She adjusted the earpiece then heard the soft voice of Melody, the director. “Finola, good morning. We’re at five minutes. Good show.”

“Good show,” she said automatically. She turned off her microphone to give herself one moment to be truly alone just as someone touched her on the shoulder.

She turned and came face-to-face with Treasure. The country-pop star was about Finola’s height, with long, dark red hair worn in cascading ringlets. Her eyes were deep green and even with heavy TV makeup, her skin was amazing.

Finola blinked in surprise.

“Hello. I thought you didn’t want to meet before the interview.” She managed a smile and held out a hand. “It’s lovely to meet you, Treasure. I’m a big fan.”

The twenty-three-year-old smiled at her. “No, you’re not,” she said softly. “Or if you are now, you won’t be.”

She ignored Finola’s outstretched hand. “You’re older than I thought. Thirty-four, right? You couldn’t be my mom, but you wouldn’t be an older sister, either. Maybe an aunt.”

Finola had no idea what she was talking about. “Okay,” she said slowly. “I need to go out and greet the audience. Everyone is so excited to see you and watch you perform.”

Before she could turn away, Treasure grabbed her upper arm. Her fingers dug in just enough to be uncomfortable.

“It’s me,” she whispered, leaning close. “I’m the one he’s sleeping with. I’m the one who’s done things with him you can’t even imagine. It’s not just the sex, you know. It’s all of it.” She rolled her eyes. “He didn’t want to tell you about us, like he could hide me, but I had my manager book me on your show so he didn’t have a choice.”

Treasure’s smile turned cruel. “And now you know.”

Finola could only stare at her, even as her mind rejected the words. This isn’t happening, she thought desperately. It can’t be. Nothing the other woman was telling her could be true. Before she could react in any way, Treasure released her and walked away. Finola pressed a hand to her stomach, hoping to slow the bleeding just enough to not die that very moment.

She had to run, she told herself. She had to get out of here. She had to—


Melody’s voice competed with the very loud buzzing in her head.

“Finola, you need to get on set now.”

The show. She had to do the show. It was live, so there was no second chance. She had to walk out there and face the two hundred people in the audience, not to mention the million or so in their homes. AM SoCal was hugely popular. She was well liked in the community and today they had on a massive star. Ratings would be huge.


“I’m here.”

She drew in a breath and dug as deep as she could for every ounce of professionalism, not to mention self-preservation, she’d managed to accumulate in her life. She had to survive sixty minutes. Just sixty minutes and then she would be able to collapse. Just the next hour. That was all.

She walked out to face her audience. They immediately burst into applause. She waved and smiled at them, focusing only on the people in the first few rows. Near the center aisle were what looked like three generations—grandmother, daughter and granddaughter, all clapping happily. There were a few of her regulars—those who always came to tapings, but the rest of the audience was filled with teenagers.

The Treasure fans, she thought grimly. How was she going to survive? She glanced at the teleprompter and breathed a sigh of relief. Thank God.

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the show. We have something very special in store for you today, although based on the demographics of my audience, word has already spread—Pause for laughter.

She stepped into place and waited for the countdown to live. Normally she would have chatted with the audience a little, but not only wasn’t there time, she couldn’t have done it. Not today.

“Five, four, three.” She watched the fingers indicate the silent “Two, one,” then thought of puppies and kittens playing and how drunk she was going to get later. When the red light on the camera illuminated, she was fairly confident her smile was something close to genuine.

“Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the show.”

Finola worked the introduction. She never fully felt like herself, but the shock and pain faded just enough that she could inhale. She consciously relaxed her body and focused on what she had to get through.

“Here she is, and I’ll confess I’m a little starstruck myself. Treasure!”

Finola turned to where the singer would enter. Treasure sauntered across the set, her familiar coltish walk and easy smile bringing the audience to their feet. There were plenty of screams and whistles. Treasure waved at everyone, then looked at Finola. For a second something dark and evil seemed to turn her face into a sinister mask, but then it was gone, leaving Finola to wonder if she was imagining things or if, in fact, the superstar was about to discuss her affair on television.

They sat angled toward each other. Finola was grateful her overly efficient team had loaded questions into the teleprompter. She didn’t have to think, she reminded herself. She simply had to look engaged and ask the prewritten questions.

“Your new album is doing incredibly well,” she began. “Congratulations.”

“Thanks. I’m really happy with the way my fans are responding. Especially to the first single.” She flashed the audience a smile. “‘That Way.’”

“It’s a provocative song.”

Treasure leaned toward her and lowered her voice. “It’s about sex.”

The audience laughed.

Finola couldn’t tell if she was blushing or if she’d gone totally white. She was light-headed and hoped she wasn’t swaying in her seat. The potential for disaster was massive and if Treasure said anything...

Treasure sighed. “You know, there are men who just get how to please a woman. The way they touch you and kiss you—it’s magic.”

There was more laughter. Finola did her best to join in.

“You’ve always played with unexpected topics in your songs. This album continues that tradition.”

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