Read Lovers & Liars Online

Authors: Jean C. Joachim

Lovers & Liars (7 page)

“Oh
my God, Mac!
How are you?”

“I’m
fine. You’re working with Gunther?”

“You
know him?”

“He’s
one of our biggest contributors. He graduated from Kensington State, too.”

A
huge lump formed in the pit of Erica’s stomach.
Shit. The truth is about to break.

“Is
he in?”

Searching
her mind for an excuse, she came up blank. “Sure. Just a sec.” Her hands became
cold and clammy, and her heart rate doubled.
Dammit!

Before
she could buzz him, he buzzed her. “Who is that, some nosy reporter?”

“Mac
Caldwell from Kensington State,” she said.

“Mac?
No kidding. Put him through.”

Erica
did the transfer then put the receiver down.
Should I pack up now or do the press release before he fires me. Maybe
I should call Tiffany Cowles. That would be the nice thing to do.

She
picked up the phone and dialed.

 
 
 
 

Chapter
Four

 

“Hey,
Mac!
How’s it
hangin
’, buddy?”

“Gunther,
you rat,
good
. Good. You?”

“Can’t
complain. Just dumped my fiancée, but otherwise, business is good.”

“Yeah,
read about it this morning.”

“Is
that why you’re calling?”

“Want
to invite you to a fundraiser.” Mac gave him all the details.

“If
I’m in New York, I’ll definitely come.”

“Great.
Hey, you’re a lucky guy.”

“How
so?”

“Erica
Wheeler works for you.”

“You
know Erica?”

“Sure
do. She worked here in the dean’s office all four years while she went to
school.”

“She
went to Kensington State?” Gunther pushed to his feet and started to pace. His
breath caught in his throat.
She lied to
me? First Elsa, now Erica? Say it isn’t so.

“One
of our finest graduates. She’s a hard worker. Real businesslike, but she has a
good sense of humor, too. Anything going on between you two?”

“Nah.
Strictly business.” He closed his free hand into a fist. “It’s all rumors,
Mac.” The two men laughed.

“Be
sure to let me know if you’re going to be in New York. You’ll be the guest of
honor.”

“I’ll
try.” He gritted his teeth.

“Great.
Take it easy.”

“You,
too.” Gunther put the phone down then kicked the wastepaper basket across the
room. It crashed into the credenza, sending glasses tumbling to the carpet.
Nothing broke, but the commotion brought Erica in.
Betrayal! Two-faced little liar!

Erica cracked the door a little.

“Was any of that aimed at in this
direction?”

 
“Come in…my little liar.” His falsely sweet
voice masked the rage in his chest.

She
entered slowly, seeming to shrink as she backed against the wall.

“Don’t
be shy.” His tone was clipped, his manner formal and restrained.
I should take her over my knee. Nah, she
might like that.

She
hesitated then remained near the exit, not moving, as if prepared to run.

“So
you went to an Ivy League college, did you? I didn’t know Kensington State qualified
as Ivy League.” He paced with his hands joined behind his back, his eyes on
her.

“I
can explain…”

“Oh,
I’m sure you can. It’s still a lie. Got this job under false pretenses.” He
spit the words at her.

She
was silent.

He
turned to face her. “Well? I’m waiting. Where’s the explanation? Obviously, you
think I’m stupid enough to believe anything you say.”

“I
really needed the job.”

“That’s
it? You really needed the job? So you lied about your qualifications to get it?
That’s grounds for immediate dismissal and no unemployment pay. You understand
that, don’t you?”
God, she looks so
vulnerable, so broken.

She
nodded. “I’ve already packed up my stuff.” She chewed her lip, her eyes wide.

“Oh?”
He raised an eyebrow. “You think I should fire you?”
Those damn doe eyes.

“I
didn’t say that.” She looked at him, blinking back tears.

“Any
reason I shouldn’t? Who can trust a liar?”
She’s
adorable when she’s scared silly.

“Maybe
you can’t. But you might reconsider, if you think of these reasons…Tiffany
Cowles is coming here tomorrow to interview you. She likes Bailey’s Irish Cream
and chocolate éclairs. Here’s the press release. Oh, and I booked The Blue
Window for the night before Max Webster’s birthday. I made a list of people who
should be invited. I’ll give it to you before I leave.”

He
stopped walking. “You did all that?”

She
tried to smile. “You should keep me because I’m doing a good job.”

“But
how will I know if you’re telling me the truth?”

“Maybe
you won’t. But you’ll get what you pay for.”

“You
think so?” He cocked an eyebrow at her.
She’s
sexy when she’s right.

“You’re
the one who said you couldn’t live without me.”

“That’s
not quite what I said…”
She’s backpedaling.

“Close
enough.” She folded her arms across her chest. The look of defiance on her face
made him chuckle.
Best defense is a good
offense. Look at her, ready to lock horns with me. You’ll lose, little lady.
But oh, how I’d love to tangle with you.

“You
can stay, but you’re on probation. Any other lies like that lurking?”

Erica
threw her arms around his neck and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, Gunther. Thank
you so much. You have no idea what this job means to me.”

“Don’t
make me sorry I gave you another chance.” He put his hands on her waist,
holding her in place. A sudden desire to kiss her made it hard for him to let
her go.

“You
won’t regret it.”

“Better
not,” he mumbled, his gaze resting on her cleavage. Her scent mixed with the
slightly sweet fragrance of gardenia was heady. With her up against him, he
began to get hard.
It’s not her. I’m
horny. Been a while. It’s definitely not her. But her rack. It’s tempting.
The
words in his head couldn’t convince his heart.
I can’t fall for her. I travel alone. So let go of her!

Gunther
dropped his hands and stepped back. Erica reached up and wiped her lipstick off
his cheek with her fingers. “There. No trace.”

“Give
me that press release.”

She
picked it up off his desk and handed it to him. He bent over it, pretending to
read, when he could hardly focus. He wanted her. Having her in his arms seemed
perfect, but was something he didn’t plan on.
No relationships. I just got out from under dragon lady. Stay away from
Doe-Eyes.

“Before
we begin, I changed your appointments with the three young actresses.”

“How
so?” He raised his gaze to hers.

“They’re
scheduled twenty minutes apart.”

“What!”
I was hoping to get laid. Might keep me
away from Erica.

Erica
narrowed her eyes. “That’s plenty of time to size them up, have them read, and
form an opinion.”

“It’s
not nearly enough. I asked you to arrange for…”

“I
know what you asked. And I’m not doing it. I’m not a pimp. I’m not going to
send those young lambs to slaughter.” She balled her hands into fists and
rested them on her hips.

“They
know what they’re doing. Half the time they come in and seduce me.”

“Yeah,
right! Think I’m stupid?”

He
threw down the press release in disgust. “Damn you. Think you own me?”

“I’m
doing it for your own good. Time to clean up your rep if you’re going to be
taken seriously.”

“Guys
don’t care. They don’t care if you’re screwing the chambermaid. As long as you
don’t end up on the front page.” His gaze rested on her breasts for the
hundredth time.

“What
makes you think these girls aren’t going to expose you?”

He
stopped for a minute and scratched his chin. “Haven’t so far.”

“Don’t
push your luck.”

“It’s
my recreation.”
But I’d much rather mess
around with you.

“Go
work out at the gym. Run. Work it off some other way. Trust me, Gunther, one of
these days a girl you screw in here is going to come back and bite you in the
ass.”

As
soon as the words were out of her mouth, Erica broke into a fit of giggling.
Gunther got it and joined in. They laughed until they cried.

“You
know what I mean.”

“Okay.
You win.”
Maybe you’d like to take their
place? Love to get you down on that sofa. Rip your clothes off.

He
picked up the press release again and returned to his desk. Erica sat across
from him, her notebook open, scribbling as fast as she could. She crossed her
legs, drawing his gaze.
Damn. Great legs,
too.

 

* * * *

 

Whitmarsh’s
studio was empty when Erica showed up. Sam was the next to arrive.

“I
brought a snack.” She put a brown paper bag on the desk and took out the sandwiches
she had prepared.

“Brown
bagging it.
I love it.” Sam sauntered over and sat
down.

She
offered him one. They ate in silence for a while.

“You’re
doing really well in class,” he said.

“Thanks.
I’m feeling a little more confident.”

“Are
you auditioning anywhere?”

“Don’t
think I’m ready.”

“I
think you are. And I bet Whit does, too. Do you have a day job?”

She
nodded, her mouth full of ham and
swiss
.

“What
do you do?” He took another bite.

“Office
work.”

“For
who?”

“I
can’t say.”

“Why?”

“He
doesn’t know I’m an actress and doesn’t want one working for him.”

“Come
on. That’s ridiculous. Everyone’s an actor in L.A.”

“Can
I trust you?”

He
offered his pinky. “I swear.”

“Gunther
Quill.”

“Oh,
my God!
You’re working for Gunther Quill? You should be able
to get into movies with no problem. What a connection!”

“I
found out about this place through his email. He’d kill me if he knew my
plans.”

“What
are your plans?”

“To
be an actress, a good actress. Films, Broadway, whatever.”

“Me,
too. Can you get me in to see him?”

“How
could I explain knowing you?”

“Oh,
right. I guess. Will you keep me in mind if anything comes up?”

“Of
course.”
I’m already betraying him enough
without bringing you into the picture.

“We
should go out sometime.”

Before
the conversation could go any further, the rest of the students flooded in.
Whit took Erica aside. “Can you stay after class for a moment? I want to talk
to you.”

She
nodded.
Is this good or bad?
She
focused on doing her speech to keep her nerves at bay. After class, she
wandered over to the master coach.

“Erica,
you have talent. And looks. I think it’s time for you to shine. There’s a
perfect part, a supporting role in a new movie
.
The woman originally in the part had to bow out due
to
 
schedule
conflict.
They’re frantically looking for a replacement. You’d be perfect.” He jotted
down some words on a piece of paper. “Here’s the day, time, and address. Be
there.”

“Thank
you, Mr. Eddy.”

“You’re
welcome. But don’t get too happy until you get the part.”

The
next morning, Erica bounced into the office, full of energy. She was excited
about the audition.

Gunther
arrived full of orders and looking a little frazzled. “Max invited us to the
opening night of
Sway.”

“Us?”
She said while scribbling down his directives.

“I
never go without a beautiful woman. You’re going. Make plane reservations.
First class only. We leave on Thursday morning, return Sunday afternoon.
Reserve a two-bedroom suite at
The Plaza.
You’ll be safe from me with your own room.”

I’ll never be safe from you.
“I’ve
only been to New York City once. When I was at Kensington.”

He
stopped in his tracks. “Never been to New York?”

“Not
really. One museum trip with school.”

He
laughed. “You’re in for a treat. You’re going to see Gunther Quill’s New York.
Pack all the fancy clothes you have and a warm coat. It’s chilly there in
October.”

Erica
got goose bumps.
Another princess for a
day.
She turned her attention to booking their trip while Gunther hunkered
down in his office, making deals and working out contracts.

At
lunchtime,
Dorrie
Rodgers picked her up and took her
shopping. The choreographer, Gunther’s former fiancée, knew how Erica should
dress. They went to several shops on Rodeo Drive, charging everything to
Gunther.

That
night, Amy was shocked to see Erica return home loaded down with bags and boxes
from tony Beverly Hills shops. Erica tried to ignore the snide comments from
her roommate, chalking it up to jealousy, but it irked her.

“Why
can’t you be happy for me, Amy? You have Garth. I have nothing but work. And I work
a lot harder than you ever did. Don’t you think I deserve some reward?”

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