From a novel by Elizabeth Xifaras


Chapter One

The Bargain He'd Made

Explosions of light, voices screaming. Bodies weighing down on his own. He tried to push onwards, force his way through. Heart pounding, mouth dry. As always. As fucking always when it came to this part.

"Adam! Adam!"

"Over here! Adam! Hi!"

He could feel them bashing into him, jostling. How close did they need to be to take a photo? Jesus, if he lost his footing he'd be trampled to death in minutes. Live on TV.

"Adam! Here, over here!"

"Adam! How long are you staying?" A woman's voice. He almost turned, but experience overcame instinct. He would never get involved with one of these vipers.

The bodyguard's arm, thick and heavy around his shoulder, propelled him forward. Head down, hidden by the cap and Ray-Bans, he forced his way through the path they carved for him. Christ, all he wanted to do was walk through the airport to the car, was that too much to ask?

"Tosser," one of them muttered behind him. He was knackered, his jeans and T-shirt creased and clinging. The flight was a nightmare, even in first, and he was groggy with Krug and fatigue. His body clock was shot, he needed to shower and sleep. But a six-hour delay and his manic schedule meant there was no way he could stop. Straight to rehearsal. The photo shoot had been postponed, not that he was sorry. They were always so boring. And anyway, he looked like crap.

The bodyguard shoved him into the limo. The guy's hand was actually on his ass. Adam almost felt a palm print there, damp and warm. He used to like his own personal space, back in the days when it existed. But this all came with the territory. This was the bargain he'd made. His space wasn't personal any more. He no longer owned it. He knew that.

The air in the limo was cool and still, the leather soft, and at last the world behind the tinted windows melted away. He closed his eyes, but the bulbs still flashed on the inside of his lids. The lights he could never escape. Reaching for a bottle of Evian, he held the cool plastic to his forehead.

Adam didn't even notice when the car stopped moving. The driver had to call through.

"We're here, sir."

He jolted forward, feeling a little sick. Had he fallen asleep? He took another bottle of water and the script, which had been left for him on the seat, and headed out into the London air. Three steps from the car to the door. Three steps and he was soaked to the skin, his T-shirt cold against his chest. Great. Everything was dirty from the grey sky to the grey street, gritty under his feet, littered with crisp packets and paper cups that wilted under the rain. He thought of the golden sun he had left behind, the smooth clean sidewalks. What the hell was he doing back here?

The small room smelled of dust and damp, the strip lighting giving a blue-tinged, eerie pallor to the faces that turned towards him. There was an air of expectation as he walked in. He'd kept them waiting for two hours, but Abby must have called ahead because now they were all ready, sitting in a circle on those plastic chairs that always had him thinking of high school. He scanned the group, watching the faces go through the stages of recognition he had seen so often before. Yes, it was really him. Yes, he looked as good as he did on screen. Not as tall, though.

There were two spaces. One was between the director and some old guy. He couldn't sit there, what was he, some kind of geek? The other was between two girls. He recognised one of them, Trixie something or other, she was playing the female lead, Adiel. His love interest. She was pretty, with dark hair and huge eyes. Tiny, of course. She looked as if she'd break if you blew on her. The love scenes would be no hardship. The other was a big girl, blonde haired. Everything about her was round, enormous blue eyes, open face, big round tits. She was wearing some kind of lacy bra, he could see it through her top.

She cleared her throat and he lifted his eyes to her face. Shit. He had to look up. She smiled and raised an eyebrow. He blushed, actually blushed. Him, Adam Craven. Shit. He turned his back and sat next to the old guy.

The director smiled at him briefly, peering over her glasses. The smile was friendly and a little absent minded, nothing more. He was used to more. A widening of the eyes, a glance up and down, a colouring of the cheeks. Adam took in her faded jeans, baggy sweater and thick-rimmed glasses. Lesbian, he concluded.

"Right," she said brightly. "Now we've all finally made it let's get started with introductions. I'm Clare Richardson, your director, as you all already know." She gave a little giggle. "We've all met, I think..." She pushed the glasses up her nose and peered round the group. "Hmm, well, most of us, anyway, or, or been in contact, anyway, and, well, that's me!" She giggled again.

Christ, she was like some kindergarten teacher. She'd be giving them frigging balloons next. Adam began to get a sickening feeling that he'd made a terrible mistake. Maybe he'd get his lawyers to find a loophole in the contract. She was still twittering on.

".. .very excited, there's a lot of talent in this room and when we all come together we're going to create some true magic."

It was all he could do to stop himself groaning aloud. The woman was actually trembling, did she really believe all this crap? She turned to him, her face pink and sweating. Apparently so.

"Your turn," she said.

Oh, no. Not seriously.

She smiled at him and nodded encouragingly.

Yes. Seriously. He glanced around the group and gave a flick of the hand. "Hi. I'm playing Gad."

He turned to the old guy, but she was still looking at him, nodding so hard he began to wonder if she had some kind of twitch. "And you are...?" she said.

Oh, come on. There wasn't a person in the room who didn't know. "Adam Craven," he said.

"Good! Good!" she said, beaming as though he'd just got an A grade in a math paper.

He watched the grey rain streaming down the window. Oh, God. This was a mistake. Big mistake.

Clare droned on breathlessly, glistening globules of saliva streaking through the air when she became really excited. Adam sank deeper into his chair, concentrating on the steady beat of the rain, sedated by the warm fug of the room. He didn't care about her vision for the movie. He didn't care about the multi-faceted characters. He hadn't read the book, had only glanced through the script. But he knew the character he was playing. The hero, the good guy, the guy who risks everything for the girl. The same guy he always played.

He was barely conscious by the time they broke for coffee. And the coffee itself hardly helped, scalding and watery with a yellow scum on the surface, it tasted of nothing. On his last movie there had been six different types to choose from, all made freshly right there in front of you. But this was what you got on a low budget Brit flick, he should have known. His agent was right. He must be crazy. Although maybe not as crazy as the crazy director.

Adam sipped the scalding dishwater and pressed his thumb and forefinger into his closed eyes until streaks of red fire leapt over the lids. He hoped the hotel had a decent bed. Somehow he suspected it wouldn't be up to the standard he was used to.

He opened his eyes and almost yelped at the sight of the old guy's earnest, lined face pushed close to his own. He tried to step away, but he was backed up against a wall.

"Hi," Adam said.

"Exciting project, isn't it?"


"Of course, my own career has been spent mostly in the theatre, as you probably know. I find it preferable in general, one really must be at one's best always in the theatre, no chance for a second take, of course. And there's such a rapport with one's audience." He smiled, tight lipped. "I'm very careful about the film work I accept, but this project seems to have great integrity and..."

The dark haired girl, Trixie, joined them. She was wearing knee-high boots and a leather mini-skirt. Adam slumped against the wall and hung his head, trying to get a better view.

".. .and such a talented director," the old guy said. "She's truly marvellous, don't you think?"

"Marvellous." Adam couldn't help mimicking the clipped British accent. Trixie flashed him a smile that was like the sun bursting out from behind a cloud.

The old guy looked at him sharply. "Have you done much theatre work yourself?"

Adam shifted. "No, I...my schedule's always pretty packed, so..."

"Ah." The old guy smirked.

"I'd like to do some Shakespeare, actually."

"Really?" The voice and raised eyebrows made surprise, disdain even, clear. "Did you have a particular role in mind?"


"Iago?" said Trixie.

The old guy bent over her, his hand on her shoulder as though he was addressing a child. "It's Othello, my dear. But," he turned his gaze back to Adam, though he left his hand where it was. "I wouldn't have thought it was your kind of role."

Adam bristled, trying to think of a sharp reply.

"Oh, I think you'd be really good." It was the round, blonde girl. She was standing next to Trixie. He hadn't even seen her.

"Thank you."

"I mean, you've got a bit of an edge, haven't you? Although, they might have to uglify you a bit, otherwise there'd be no reason for him to be so bitter, would there?"

He smiled. "You'd be surprised. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your…?"


"Grace," he said, his whole arm bouncing on the end of her handshake. "And you're playing?"

"At being a script writer!" She laughed. "No, I wrote the book, and adapted it. Well, co-adapted it with..."

"Othello?" Trixie said, suddenly. "But isn't he the black one? You can't play him, can you?"

Adam caught the light dancing in Grace's eyes, and stifled a laugh.

When they began rehearsing he felt better. Awake. Or maybe he just felt nothing, no tiredness, no irritation. He was aware only of the work.

The scene was one from near the end of the movie; he'd gone over it on the plane. He didn't have to say that much, the old guy, Evan, was doing most of the talking. But Adam made his face, his eyes, do the work. It was easy. He could feel their attention focused on him, feel the silence, the stillness. Now, now was the time. Now they knew he was more than just a pretty face.

He was buzzing when he left. The rain shimmered in the lights of the barely moving traffic, the street glistened beneath him. Everything looked better in the darkness.

The car door clicked heavily behind him and he sank into the soft leather, calmed by the steady rhythm of the wipers as they pulled smoothly away. The book was lying on the seat. Abby must have left it. He hadn't seen it before, maybe it was underneath the script. The Ark by Grace Matthews. He'd take a look after all. Research. Not now, though. Now he had other research in mind. He closed his eyes and tried to summon up a picture of Trixie, her full lips, her legs disappearing up into that skirt. He waited for the stirring of his cock.

But instead, the image that came to him was a round face and a cloud of blonde hair. Fucking irritating.

At two a.m. he gave up. He couldn't sleep. Jet lag had left him saturated with exhaustion in the day and had robbed him of it now. He threw the contents of the mini-bar onto the bed and picked up the book. It slid across his palm, smooth and light. The cover made him dubious, some Mills and Boonesque picture of a couple gazing at each other. Not his usual choice. Sci-fi wasn't really his thing either, he preferred the classics, Trollope's gentle prose or the visceral descriptions of Lawrence.

Still, the newness of it, the potential of the unknown intrigued him. It was virgin territory. And he liked that girl, Grace. She had something about her.

The spine cracked faintly as he opened it.

To Mum and Dad. Thanks for believing.

Hmm. Had the fiction started already?

He took a swig of beer.

I catch his eye, and time stands still....

©2008 Elizabeth Xifaras

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