Authors: Bev Pettersen
Studs and Stilettos
Studs and Stilettos
Copyright © 2013 Bev Pettersen
Digital ISBN: 978-0-9881151-4-9
Print ISBN: 978-0-9881151-3-2
This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or a portion thereof, in any form. This book may not be resold or uploaded for distribution to others.
This is a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments, organizations, horses or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity, and are used fictitiously. All other characters, and all incidents and dialogue, are drawn from the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
Editor: Pat Thomas
Cover Art Design: Kim Killion
Formatting: L.K. Campbell
The ball bounced across the pavement followed by a blur of brown. Emily yanked the steering wheel to the right and slammed on the brakes as the dog disappeared beneath her bumper. Her car skidded sideways, tires squealing, until it was stopped by a steel utility pole.
“What happened, Em?” Jenna’s voice sounded discordant over the speaker phone. “What was that noise?”
Emily pulled the phone from the dashboard, barely able to breathe, let alone speak. “J-Jenna,” she managed, battling to suck air into her lungs. “I just hit a dog. Can you look up a nearby vet? I’m close to Churchill Downs.”
She unclipped her seatbelt and scrambled out, in such a panic that her heel caught and she almost tripped. She dropped to the concrete and peered beneath the car. Thankfully there was nothing by the left wheel. She rushed around the bumper and checked the front.
Steam hissed from her crumpled hood and the smell of rubber stained the area, but there was no sign of an injured animal. Except for a squashed soda can, the pavement was bare. She sagged against the fender, finally able to breathe.
Twenty feet away, a brown dog scooped up a rubber ball from the center of the road. His tail waved in a gay plume as he rejoined a group of playing children, all oblivious to the near miss. Clearly he wasn’t hurt. He moved as quickly now as when he’d dashed in front of her car.
She adjusted the phone against her ear. Her hand was still shaking but she forced her voice to calm. “It’s okay, Jenna. The dog’s okay. No need for a vet.”
“He ran after a ball and I had to swerve.”
“Were you speeding?” Jenna’s voice sharpened. “Were you using hands-free?”
“Yes, of course. And I was way under the speed limit. The airbag didn’t even inflate. Everything’s fine.” Emily pulled in a deep breath. “The car needs some work though. Guess I’ll need a little extra cash this month.”
Regret knotted her stomach. This was the third time this year she’d been forced to ask for money from the loosely labeled ‘education fund.’ And repairs on the Lotus were never cheap. If Burke hadn’t bought the car as a gift, she would have sold it long ago.
Luckily Jenna couldn’t see the wrecked vehicle. Her sister was incredibly generous, as was her wealthy husband, but lately telephone conversations had been rather strained.
“Of course, I’ll pay you back once I’m working,” Emily added. “I had another audition last week. For a real movie, not a commercial. Those acting lessons are finally paying off.”
Jenna still didn’t speak.
Emily rushed to fill the silence. “This role sounds super. It’s about some Kentucky race family and has a bigger budget than
.” She forced a shaky laugh but didn’t slow. When life threw curve balls, she’d learned it was best to talk fast, act confident and hide her fear.
“I’ll need something to wear though,” she went on. “I was just driving to that boutique close to my apartment. Their knock-offs are a fraction of designer prices. Do you need a new dress? Now that I lost ten pounds, we’re about the same size. I could pick something out for you.”
“How many auditions have you had now?” Jenna asked, her voice subdued.
“Twelve,” Emily said. “But my agent says it takes a ton of auditions before you land a job. Once I have a speaking role, I can join the union which helps getting roles. Of course, it all takes time.” But the knot spread from her stomach to her chest, and she hated the desperation in her voice. Lately she despaired of ever landing an acting job, and it was becoming increasingly hard to act positive.
She turned away from the steam rising around the hood, determined not to agonize over the crushing rejections. No one ever said acting was easy. Usually at this point though, Jenna was offering counsel and boosting her spirits. Today she was quiet, almost resigned, not sounding at all like Emily’s supportive big sister.
Emily stiffened, instantly forgetting her gloomy car and even gloomier finances. “What’s wrong, sis?” Alarm filled her voice. “Are you all right? Is Peanut okay?”
“I’m fine. And Peanut is doing as well as any other aged pony. His breathing is okay but he misses you.” Jenna’s voice tightened. “Isn’t it time you finally gave up and moved home? Burke is building a guesthouse where the old shed used to be. A place where he can put his cousin and other business associates. There’s lots of room. He installed a temporary ceiling for now. We’re not sure about skylights, since you always said natural light wasn’t very flattering.”
Emily bit her lip. She had a lot more problems than debating the pros and cons of skylights. And while Jenna and Burke were always gracious, she’d tried living with them before. It hadn’t worked. They were too much in love, and she always felt like a third wheel. She certainly didn’t want to crawl home to West Virginia and beg for her tour guide job back. She needed to accomplish something.
Besides, they obviously didn’t want her underfoot. They were sticking her with Burke’s business associates? She tried to shrug it off but the reality hurt.
“I’ll visit in the summer,” she said, “if that’s a good time. If your new guesthouse will be finished by then?” She paused, waiting for reassurance that she’d misunderstood, and of course she was welcome to stay in the family home. After all, it was built on Emily and Jenna’s joint land, and it had been Burke who insisted on demolishing their old trailer.
But the only sound was the tapping of Jenna’s laptop.
Emily forced a quick laugh, rushing to hide her hurt. “Of course I can’t come home until my car’s repaired,” she said. “So maybe you could lend some money?”
“No,” Jenna said. “That’s why you have insurance. Burke included a comprehensive policy when he bought the car.”
Emily squeezed her eyes shut, wishing she hadn’t cancelled the collision coverage. But audition clothes were expensive and her agent had stressed the importance of dressing for the part she wanted to play.
And if she received a callback for the Kentucky movie, yet another purchase would be necessary. Her agent would freak if she wore the same clothes to the second audition. And she needed to freshen her highlights. The movie was based on a true story from the nineties, and the casting director had stressed they wanted blondes.
She realized Jenna was still talking and yanked her attention back to her sister.
“Exams are a nightmare,” Jenna said with a heavy sigh. “I can’t wait for the spring semester to be over.”
Emily made a sympathetic sound deep in her throat. Luckily she didn’t have to cram for exams, not anymore. She’d already learned college wasn’t her thing. It was ironic that Jenna was working her butt off to be a vet when Burke would happily buy her anything she wanted. Clearly studying was hard on everyone’s head. Jenna hadn’t sounded this subdued in years.
“Forget about college for a few days,” Emily said impulsively. “Visit me in Louisville. You can have the bed. I’ll sleep on the couch. And I promise to be quiet when you need to study. We can shop, do your nails, spice up your wardrobe. It would be loads of fun.”
“Thanks, Em. But shopping is your fix. I’d rather massage a few animals, sit on the porch and maybe end the night with a beer.”
Emily’s shoulders drooped. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d spent quality time with Jenna. “You mean end the night with Burke,” she said.
“Yes.” Jenna’s voice turned husky as it always did when she spoke of her hunky husband. “He’s definitely the best way to finish the day. But he’s working in New York now. Some big merger that’s going to take awhile. I miss him.”
She misses him more than me
. The realization made Emily’s throat tighten. It was only natural—Burke was Jenna’s husband. But Emily felt so alone now. Sometimes she wished they still lived in their sagging trailer, back when it was her and Jenna against the world.
Jenna had always been a rock, more like a mother than a sister, and the only person in the world who loved Emily despite her flaws. She couldn’t imagine not having Jenna around to laugh with. To listen to her problems. To fix things.
She twisted a tendril of hair around her finger, painfully aware Jenna might win a sister-of-the-year award but she never would. No wonder Jenna preferred Burke’s company. He gave back. He showed he cared.
Emily had trouble just remembering the details of Jenna’s vet program. She gave her head a regretful shake, wishing she’d paid more attention. But it was difficult to ask questions when she couldn’t even pronounce the course names. “Well,” she said cautiously, “I hope the studying is going well. After exams are over, maybe you can take a break.”
“Yes,” Jenna said. “Now I really have to get back to the books. Glad you and the dog weren’t hurt. See you.”
“Wait,” Emily said. “I need a tow—” But dead air filled the phone. She lowered her hand, blinking in hurt, unable to recall any other time when Jenna had been the first to hang up.
“Really?” Emily slumped against the window, her grip on the phone tightening. “Another rejection?”
“Sorry,” her agent said, without sounding sorry at all. “They didn’t want you. You might consider new headshots. I can refer you to an excellent photographer. His rates aren’t cheap but all the successful actors swear by him. And how long is your hair now? It’s probably time to consider a more innovative cut.”
Emily stared down at the bustling street while her agent recited a list of Louisville’s top hair stylists. So far, she’d followed every one of Tamara’s suggestions. Clothes, classes, diction and diet. She’d never questioned the price. Of course, that was when Jenna and Burke were footing the bill.
She didn’t want to beg for extra money, not after this morning’s car crash. They already provided a reasonable allowance. But it was mind-boggling how much it cost to break into the movie industry…and okay, perhaps she had blown her budget on clothes.
There hadn’t been much choice though. A makeup commercial for cable TV and two local car ads certainly didn’t pay her rent, although she wouldn’t have landed even those paltry jobs if her clothes hadn’t hidden her dirt-poor roots. As Tamara said, appearances were critical.
If Jenna knew how broke she was, she’d simply tell Emily to come home. She’d be doubly insistent if she knew Emily’s car was stranded at the mechanic’s. Burke might even interfere with his own brand of persuasion. That man would do anything to please Jenna.
Emily squeezed the phone with a sticky palm, trying to quell her rising panic as Tamara lectured about ‘imperative career investments.’
“Would it make any difference if I streaked my hair?” Emily finally asked. “Money’s a little tight now but I can do that myself.”
Tamara gave a dismissive snort. “A cheap home job isn’t enough. Remember, you have to invest in your career. This is about contacts. Contacts, persistence and looking good.” Tamara’s voice faded then turned rushed. “I have another call. I’ll email you if something comes up.”
something comes up, not when. Obviously Tamara was losing hope too. Emily swung away from the window, unable to hide her frustration. “Wait. Please tell me the truth. Is there much chance? Do any of your clients ever make money?”
“Absolutely.” But Tamara’s voice turned defensive. “In fact, I’m sending a busload of extras to the movie set tomorrow. Sometimes the casting director will spot a new face. That’s what happened with Harrison Ford.”
Emily sank onto the sofa. Background seemed to be the only work Tamara ever offered. And Emily didn’t want to be one of those. She wanted to have lines, to receive a credit, to be someone Jenna would see on screen and proudly say, ‘That’s my sister.’
“Only last month one of my background performers landed a speaking role,” Tamara went on. “I was the sole reason he was on set. Perhaps you should consider it? Background pays slightly more than minimum wage and it also provides meals. Of course, I do receive my agency’s standard commission.”