Authors: Cindy Dees
Tags: #Hard Bodies#1
a Hard Bodies novel
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 by Cindy Dees. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce, distribute, or transmit in any form or by any means. For information regarding subsidiary rights, please contact the Publisher.
Entangled Publishing, LLC
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Edited by Nina Bruhns
Cover design by Heather Howland
Manufactured in the United States of America
First Edition April 2013
The author acknowledges the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademark owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this work of fiction:
Irish cream, Kahlua. Marine Corps, C-4, Tonto, Hollywood Walk of Fame, Jack Daniels, Penthouse, Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson, L.A. Times, Dumpster
“OMG, who’s the man candy?” Olivia Harper blurted. The perfection she’d spotted out the window of the make-up trailer oozed raw sex appeal from a hundred feet away.
Her make-up artist, Tyrone, answered appreciatively, “New military consultant for the film. Yummy, isn’t he?”
“What happened to the old one?”
“Jeremy got him canned. Said the guy was picking on him,” Tyrone added under his breath. “If you ask me, he couldn’t handle the boot camp the first consultant set up. ‘Bout time someone picked on McDumbass—”
Olivia grinned, which made Tyrone squawk. He was in the middle of attaching a fake wound to her right cheek. She was scheduled to spend a good chunk of the big budget action-adventure movie in uncomfortable prosthetics of one kind or another. But being an up-and-comer in the movie industry meant taking the oddball roles whether she liked them or not. Especially if she wanted to be branded Hollywood’s newest badass chick: a female version of the man standing ramrod straight at the far edge of the sound stage looking impatient.
Her co-star, McDumbass, aka Jeremy McDaniels, came into the trailer just then, breaking her train of thought. “You look like shit, Harper.”
“That would be the point,” she replied dryly. In today’s first scene, she was fighting a zombification infection while the hero raced to find a cure for it. She angled her chin up so the wound could be extended down onto her neck. She asked without moving her jaw, “What’s the name of the new consultant?”
“Which one?” Jeremy cast his bored gaze across the set.
. “The gorgeous one in the khaki slacks and navy polo shirt.”
“You mean the old guy?”
Olivia snorted. If that was old, sign her up for the geriatric ward. “Yeah. The hot grandpa.”
“Blake something. He’s military.”
“Which branch of service?”
“How the hell should I know? The kind that shoots at stuff.”
“Wow, Jeremy. You really did your homework for your part. I’m so glad you embrace portraying a soldier with such dedication.”
“Fuck you, Harper.”
She stuck her tongue out at his retreating back, and Tyrone rolled his eyes. It was the first day of filming, and this was already turning into a long, miserable shoot. On the TV series she’d come from, the cast and crew had been one big happy family. She’d hoped for something similar on her first real movie job.
Thankfully, Tyrone pronounced her fabulicious and let her out of his chair of torture. She stretched out the kinks and strolled toward Mr. Consultant. Up close, he was even hotter.
He wasn’t pretty like Jeremy or Hollywood’s other leading men. This guy’s face was rugged and tanned, his pale eyes hard. Like they’d seen plenty of life. And death. Her belly fluttered at the danger lurking in those baby blues. His shoulders were wide, his waist narrow and trim.
It took no effort to picture this man naked, and she caught herself breathing a little faster. Something about this one made her body tighten in eager anticipation.
When she put on the sex kitten stroll she’d struggled to perfect, he frowned. “You looking for someone?” she purred. “Can I help?”
“Could you point me to the director—Adrian Turnow?”
“He’s probably on set with the lighting and camera guys.”
“Where would that be, ma’am?”
Despite his formality, his gruff voice prickled awareness along her skin and curled low in her belly. She replied, “Don’t ma’am me. I’m Olivia Harper. Call me Olivia or Liv.” She held out her hand and gasped as his big, callused palm swallowed hers in a firm grip.
Head tilted, he appraised her and, holy crap, continued to hold her hand. Her gut wound even tighter. He reached out with his left hand and her breath caught in her throat. Despite his brief touch on her jaw where the prosthetic wound turned downward to her neck, the warmth from his fingers streaked to her core.
“There’s no bone,” he murmured.
No shit, Sherlock
. The scent of him—man and musk—had just melted her entire skeleton into hot, liquid lust. Had he not held her hand like that, she’d probably have collapsed into a puddle right then and there.
“I’m Blake Ramsey, by the way. Nice to meet you. You’re even prettier in person. More grown up. Except, of course, for that hole in your face.”
She beamed up at him. He knew who she was? How cool was that? After years on a teen ensemble drama pretending to be nearly a decade younger than she was, it was gratifying that he perceived her as an adult.
Of course, her agent would blow a gasket if she saw Liv ogling some technical consultant as if she were a silly, love-struck teenager. She was being positioned and marketed as the next kick-ass Hollywood megastar. Emphasis on kick-ass. Edgy. Savvy. At ease handling men like Blake Ramsey.
In Hollywood, image was everything. Her agent had warned that she wasn’t even allowed to have lunch with anyone who wasn’t on the A-list.
“You need some bone,” he announced.
She choked at the bluntness of his come on. “Are you offering to do the job?”
He looked startled for an instant, and then his mouth turned down cynically. “I meant that a wound that deep would expose the jawbone. Tell the make-up folks to give you some bone where that wound crosses your jaw.”
“And you know this how?”
“Seen it for real,” he bit out.
Yikes. To lighten the abruptly serious mood, she asked, “Been through a zombie apocalypse, have you?”
He didn’t bother to answer. Instead, he studied her intently for a moment more and then released her hand abruptly as if he’d measured her and found her wanting.
Dismay fluttered through her. She pointed off to her right. “Set’s over there. That’s probably where you’ll find Adrian.”
. She was an actress. She knew how to keep disappointment out of her voice better than that. He nodded and strode off in the direction she’d pointed.
Jeremy’s amused voice rang out behind her. “Grandpa didn’t fall for the sexiest babe in Hollywood, huh? You’re losing your mojo, Harper.”
She glared at her co-star and silently called him the foulest name she could think of as she returned to the make-up trailer. “Hey, Tyrone. Mr. Ramsey says I need bone at this spot on my jaw where the wound hits it.”
The make-up artist groused, “I told Adrian I’m not a special effects guy. I’m in the business of making women look great, not half-dead.”
She sank into the chair and caught a glimpse of her expression in the mirror. Bleak. Yep, that worked for zombies. Not so much for seduction. Jeremy didn’t know how right he was about her lack of mojo. She had none at all when it came to men. Although he would figure that out for himself soon enough.
This movie had not one, but two steamy love scenes. And in her PG television career, she’d barely been allowed a chaste peck on the cheek with a boy, let alone a full-blown love scene.
Olivia wasn’t at all sure she was femme fatale material.
Her movie career might be over before it began.
If Blake Ramsey had been banished to this loony bin, it meant he could kiss his life as a Marine officer good-bye. He scowled as he headed the way the actress had indicated.
His boss said the move was temporary. The Russian spy agency was trying to pressure its American counterpart into releasing Carmen in a prisoner trade, and their latest tactic was to harass and threaten him. His boss wanted him out of Washington D.C. until the negotiation with the Russians was concluded. It was annoying, but better than a bullet in the back of the head, he supposed. Hell, after the debacle with Carmen, the double-agent bitch from hell, he supposed he was lucky his own government didn’t plan to execute him.
Blake scanned the chaotic spaghetti of taped-down wires, cameras, light stands, and head phoned crew poking at tablet computers. He had never seen such a disorganized gaggle in his life. He felt like a damned alien in the midst of it all.
“Can I help you?” some kid in jeans and a black T-shirt shot at him, clearly with no intent at all to help him.
He reverted to the command voice he used to whip snot-nosed eighteen-year-olds into line. “Where’s Adrian Turnow?”
“Umm, over there.” The kid scuttled away, looking a little less self-important.
He marched to the cluster of video monitors and the harassed-looking man hunched over them. As Blake approached, he heard the guy reeling off a continuous stream of instructions about angles and zooms and light values. It might as well be Greek, for all the sense it made to him.
When the man stopped to draw a breath, Blake interjected politely, “Mr. Turnow? I’m Major Blake Ramsey. Per your request, the Marine Corps sent me to consult with you.”
“God, that’s good. ‘Per your request.’ Sheila, write that down.” The director, who didn’t look much older than Blake, looked him up and down and continued dictating to his assistant, “Sunburn on leathery skin at the back of the neck. Hair not quite buzzed on the sides. Starched and creased slacks. No scuffs on the shoes. Jeez, you’re beautiful, Ramsey.”
Blake frowned. He’d prefer tough. Focused. Dangerous.
“Did Franky S. tell you what I need?”
Franky who? Did Turnow mean his boss, Colonel Franklin Santerros? “Only in the most general of terms, sir.”
The director hooted. “That’s rich. Call me sir, again. I
What the hell? Blake’s neck—leathery sunburn included—suddenly felt damned stiff. His gaze narrowed. If this guy was laughing at him, Franky S. could find himself another Marine to do this job, his safety be damned.
“I don’t want any cheesy stunt explosions in my film, Major Ramsey—you know, all fireball and no power. I need real concussion, real dust, real debris, and I need you to make that happen.”
California under a full-scale zombie assault. Real.
. “I’m sure your stunt coordinators are fully checked out at explosives—”
“Yeah, but none of them have seen recent combat up close and personal like you have. I also need you to teach my lead actor how to be a Marine. A real one.”
“Then you should send him through boot camp.”
Turnow shook his head. “I tried. His insurance company flipped out when he pulled some muscles, and they called off his training. The studio balked after that. They were afraid you types would break him.”
Blake allowed himself a single wry twitch of the lips. “We probably would have, sir.”
“Call me Adrian. You’ll sit beside me when we’re filming. Point out anything that’s not completely accurate. ‘Kay?”
It sounded easy enough. Until a handsome kid strolled over wearing ACU’s—the Army Combat Uniform—trousers not belted, combat boots unlaced, and his blouse unbuttoned halfway to his waist with no regulation T-shirt under it.
Adrian announced, “This is Jeremy McDaniels. Star of Zombie Apocalypse.”
“The one I’m supposed to turn into a Marine?”
“Yup, that’s me. Good to meet you, dude,” the actor drawled around a wad of pink bubblegum. “Let’s blow some shit up together.”
Blake wouldn’t let this yutz within a hundred feet of a block of C-4 if he had anything to say about it.
“What’s on the agenda today, Adrian?” Jeremy asked. “We gonna kill us some bad guys?”
“You’ve had the shooting schedule for a month,” the director snapped.
Blake did a double take as Jeremy slunk away. There might be some hope for Turnow controlling this chaos, yet.
“If you could pop over to Wardrobe and give the extras a quick once over, that would be great,” Turnow said, his attention already turning back to his video monitors.
Colonel Santerros’s final warning rang in Blake’s ears as he hastened toward the big tent Turnow’s assistant pointed out.
Don’t screw this up if you want to stay a Marine, Ramsey. Keep your head down. Stay out of sight. Don’t draw any attention to yourself. Be invisible, just until this mess with Carmen is sorted out.
Unfortunately, with this ragtag ensemble of actors as military wannabes, he stuck out like a private who’d forgotten to wear his camos.
Blake felt like a parent dressing a bunch of four-year-olds as he tucked in shirts, buttoned buttons, and pulled up pants. He thought he’d finished until a sultry female voice murmured from behind him, tickling his spine like a lover’s fingers. “Aren’t you going to inspect me?”
His heart clenched at the sweet sound, and he braced for the burn of acidic pain that always followed. It had been nearly a year since he discovered Carmen’s betrayal, but it still hurt.
He turned slowly. Gold-on-green-on-brown cat eyes glinted up at him sidelong. He’d heard that women in Hollywood were too beautiful to believe, but no one had warned him that their sex appeal would leap out and grab him by the throat. Or other places… Olivia Harper’s eyes ought to be registered as lethal weapons.
Yet again, her striking resemblance to the woman who’d all but wrecked his life punched him in the gut. Carmen had been a little shorter, her eyes browner. A little heavier. Bottle blond whereas Olivia’s hair was a sun-streaked honey brown. But they were both head-turning bombshells who oozed sex appeal. Instant distrust churned in his gut.
“Well, let’s see now,” he drawled low and deep as he looked Olivia up and down. “You got your boots on the correct feet. That’s a start.”
Her lush lips curved upward, and his male parts gave a lurch.
He strolled around behind her. Damn, she turned an ugly field uniform into fashion so sexy it shouldn’t be legal. “Your pants are too tight across your tush. First time you have to duck down fast, you’re gonna split a seam and show everyone your lace panties.”
“Sorry. No panties,” she replied breezily. “I thought commando was more appropriate given the subject matter of the film.”
His gaze shot back down to her curvaceous rear end, cupped snugly by gray digital camo cloth. Unlike many starlets who had no ass at all, hers would fill his hands nicely as he pulled her snug against him—
He cleared his throat and said gruffly, “Your hair’s not regulation.” Wisps of it trailed out of her loose bun, down the long line of her neck, to curve around her shirt collar.