Chapter Title: Sideways
Rating: PG (adult language).
Word Count: ~4,559.
Characters: Maraina Stratten, Patrick Westfield, Riley Stratten, Jeremy Rylon, Wayne Garson, Cate Willis, Danny Wright,
Word Count: ~4,559.
Characters: Maraina Stratten, Patrick Westfield, Riley Stratten, Jeremy Rylon, Wayne Garson, Cate Willis, Danny Wright,
Synopsis: Distracted by Riley's unwillingness to open up, Mari stumbles into a comedy of errors of her own making only to have an unexpected knight in shining armor save the day and turn up the heat.
“Good god! That man was beyond sex on a stick.”
Author's Note: Thanks Betty! :)
“You know, we haven’t really talked since you’ve come home,” Mari said as she plugged her phone into the car charger.
“I talk to you everyday, midget,” Riley said. His eyes were focused on the traffic, but Mari saw his hands tighten on the wheel.
“But you haven’t said anything about your therapy or the real reason why they let you out early.” She was pushing, she knew it, but as great as it was to have him back home, he wasn’t her Riley. There was a darkness around him that hadn’t been there before the last deployment. A coldness, too.
“Don’t go there, midget,” he said. “It’s not pretty.” His jaw tightened.
She bit off a sigh. “I love you,” she replied. “You know that, right? You have Mom and me, no matter what.” Then she backed off. She didn’t want to, but she’d been prodding Riley like cattle for the last three weeks to no avail and knew the signs when he dropped his iron curtain.
He nodded after a few seconds and the death like grip on the steering wheel eased a bit. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take you to the gate? It’s weird, that’s all I’m saying.” He pulled the car over to the side and let it idle before turning to her. “Are you really working here or is this some wild concoction of yours to avoid working for Papa Joe?”
“What are you? Twelve?” She smacked him and grabbed her phone. “I can see the gate from here. It’s only a block away and if you turn on Century to get to the gate, you’ll get caught up in traffic and it’ll take you thirty just to get back on the freeway.” She kissed him on the cheek. “I’ll be fine.”
“When does your friend arrive?”
Mari stopped half out of the van. “Helena is arriving around three. I have this meeting, then HR is sending a car to get her, so I’ll have a ride home. Don’t worry. Now, make these deliveries or Noel will have your head.”
“Don’t get into trouble, midget.”
“Quit with the midget!” She closed the passenger side door hard enough to rattle the car. “I’m only three inches shorter than you, so unless you’re saying your six even is short, my five-nine is far from midget.”
“Fine,” he said, then a wicked grin lit up his face, reminding her of the old Riley. “See you later, cupcake.”
Mari snorted, then waved. At least this time his smile seemed genuine and if getting called stupid pet names helped bring back the old Riley, she could put with it. She crossed the street and walked the block to the front gate of Imperium. It wasn’t her first time at the studio, but there was still a tingle of excitement in her stomach that she secretly hoped would never go away. Chuck — and she still had a hard time believing Sterling Mitchell wanted her to call him that — had given her the tour of the studio. It was something special to have a tour from someone who’d been here in the beginning when Imperium had been just a little upstart studio going against the goliaths of the industry. Now, she practically knew where all the bodies where buried. At least the bodies, Chuck knew about.
As she neared the gate, she pulled open her bag and began looking for id cards. Only they weren’t were they were supposed to be.
“Ma’am,” the security guard started walking towards her. “This gate is for employees only.”
“Yes,” she replied, still digging through her bag. “I gotta have my ids somewhere in here.” She pulled out her laptop bag and started searching through it.
“Ma’am,” the guard said, “I’m afraid you’re not allowed to look through your bags here. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”
Mari looked up and frowned at the unfamiliar face. “Where’s Toby?”
The guard raised his brow, then looked over his shoulder at his partner. “She’s looking for Toby.”
The other guard gave her a once over and shook his head. She now realized that her outfit, faded jeans, Riley’s old white Oxford that had been washed so many times it was more light gray than anything else and beat up brown cowboy boots didn’t look very professional, even for a film studio.
“Toby may be a bit easy when it comes to letting pretty girls in, but we value our jobs over a quick lay,” he said.
Mari could feel her face heat up. “This is just a misunderstanding.”
She gave up looking for cards when she remembered exactly where they were. Hanging on the rear view mirror of her car which Noel had taken in the shop because the brakes were dying. He wouldn’t have thought twice about the lanyards because she’d told him she’d be at Sterling’s house, not the studio. That would have been fine except Cate had texted her to come to the studio instead.
“God, I’m an idiot.” She grabbed her phone. All she had to do was call Jeremy or Cate and they could pick her up or something. She turned it on and groaned. “Crap!” All she need to see was the home screen to know this wasn’t her phone. She’d been so focused on Riley that she’d picked the phone closest to her. Only this phone was Riley’s and it didn’t have any of the numbers she needed.
“Are you going to call someone?” the guard closest to her asked.
She sighed. “Wrong phone. This one doesn’t have any of the numbers I need.”
“Right,” said the second guard who just nodded as if he completely believed her.
She had to admit that excuse sounded lame even to her ears, but once she put a number on her phone, she promptly forgot it. Who didn’t? Why memorize a number when your phone could do it for you?
“There’s a guest gate on the—”
“On the Olympic side of the studio.” She nodded and gave the guard a tight smile. It wasn’t his fault she appeared to be a skanky hot mess. “Thanks.” She grabbed her bags and geared herself up for the trek to the north side of the studio which was a gazillion blocks away.
“A pretty girl like you can do much better than Toby,” the second guard called out.
Mari waved, hoping something more ridiculous would happen during their shift that would make them forget about her idiocy. At least her boots were made for walking and, if she didn’t dawdle, she might make it to the gate off of Olympic before she turned thirty.
Patrick downshifted the sporty Maserati sedan as he pulled out off the freeway and into the surface streets. The purr of the engine made him smile. Ultimately, the V6 had been a better choice, especially for the streets of LA, but part of him still longed for the impressive kick of the V8 he’d driven. It would have been a waste of car unless he started trolling the freeways for speeding tickets. He glanced at the clock. He was early, partly by design because he wanted to talk to Jeremy about the plans for the new season — which he liked so far — and partly because his Italian powerhouse was giving him a serious case of led foot.
At least it seemed that Sterling had learned his lesson about micromanaging the writing staff and his version of a cerebral, character driven science fiction show just couldn't survive in today’s market. He’d actually been impressed by the way the Scribblers were taking the show in a new, richer direction and he was actually looking forward to this new season. Jeremy having free reign was evident and his writing was stronger for it, but all the Scribblers were now more active in the creative process, if the brainstorming session he’d stumbled on was any indication. Inevitably, his thoughts turned to Mari.
She’d been fixture on his mind since Sterling’s. Every time he’d start to think his newfound fascination with her was diminishing, he’d run into her and she’d charm him all over again. His interest hadn’t gone unnoticed, at least by Sterling who’d told him in no uncertain terms that Mari of the Entrepreneurial Spirit was off limits. Way off limits. He’d told Sterling that would not problem because he wasn’t interested in her that way. Which was a big, fat lie, of course. He glanced at the shapely brunette walking the opposite direction. Damn, he was starting to see her everywhere. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel, glanced at the rear view mirror again then hit the brakes, pulling to off side and got out.
“Mari?” He walked around the car and took off his sunglasses. “Mari!” When she stopped, he knew it wasn’t just his imagination. He slowed his pace and took in how nicely she filled out the tighter than her usual fare jeans. Yes, he’d noticed her clothes because he was a living, breathing male of the species and the girl had some serious curves with legs that went on forever.
She turned, shaded her eyes with her hands, then smiled and waved when she recognized him. He stopped short, feeling like he’d been kicked in the stomach. She must have been walking for a while because her face was flushed and glistened from the exercise. She’d unbuttoned enough buttons that the snug black tank was clearly visible. She looked hot and fuckable. All he wanted to do was lick her from head to toe and back again.
The horny teenager he’d been channeling cackled with disdainful glee. “Please, call me Patrick. Every time you say Mr. Westfield, I think my father is behind me.”
She smiled and the horny teenager took notice. “Patrick.”
He slipped his hands in his pockets and stood there like a dumbass trying to get the courage to ask the prettiest girl in school to the prom. He shook off his capricious inner teenager.
“What are you doing here?” he asked once he was fully under control of his hormones.
She cringed. “Oh. That.” She dropped her eyes to the ground and gripped the strap of bag tighter. “It’s kind of a funny story actually.” She cleared her throat and licked her lips.
He zeroed in on that act, wanting nothing more than to repeat it with his own tongue. He needed to get laid because he didn’t remember the last time he’d been this preoccupied with trying to get a woman naked. Especially one who was or should be off limits.
“My car is in the shop and I left my id cards on the rear view mirror, which would have been fine because I was originally going to Chuck’s house, but then Cate called because she wanted to go over a few things. And it still would have been fine if Toby, the security guard who’s been hitting on me from the moment I set foot in the studio…” Her voice trailed off and she blinked, then she reached out for his arm, which he didn’t even remember crossing. “No, it’s okay, he’s harmless and he didn’t do anything other than not so subtlety ask me out a couple times. Really.”
He nodded slowly trying to stifle the surge of jealousy that had come out of nowhere. He wanted to grab her hand, but she dropped it and he couldn’t help but feel the loss of heat it had generated.
“Anyway, I didn’t know the guards at the gate and they thought I was some sort of security guard bunny trying to get in the studio by using a guard’s name.”
“Why didn’t you call someone?”
“Yeah, well, that’s when the comedy of errors continues because I grabbed my brother’s phone when he dropped me off and then he wouldn’t answer my phone so I decided to walk to the Olympic gate.”
He actually wanted her to keep talking because she was cute as fuck. “That’s quite a trek from here.”
“Well, these boots were made for walking,” she lifted her foot and wiggled, “but not while chugging a laptop and carrying more notebooks than an office supply store.” She shrugged. “Now you and your,” she looked longingly at his car, “beautiful car are here. Wait, what are you doing here? The first script run through is on Friday, right?”
“I’m here listening to you,” he said. “And about to rescue you from the comedy of errors, it appears. Would you like a ride?”
“My knight in shinning armor,” she glanced back at his car, “with a really beautiful steed.”
He held out his hand and waited, but she just looked at him utter confusion until he pointed to her laptop case. “Come on, princess,” he said taking her bag, “your carriage awaits.”
Mari shook her head. “What is it with the nicknames today?” She waved him off when he looked at her. “My brother used cupcake and midget today.”
“Cupcake I’d understand,” he said. “But you’re not a midget.”
“That’s what I said ‘cuz five-nine is far from midget.” She walked to the passenger’s side and got in.
Five-Nine. That explained the legs that wouldn’t quit. Patrick put the laptop in the trunk and walked to the driver’s side. He was half way in when he froze because the sounds coming out of his car were usually reserved for bedroom or when eating Death by Chocolate Extraordinaire at Chez D’Arline.
“Oh. My. God,” she said in a breathy voice.
Mari had her eyes closed as she wiggled that delicious ass deeper into the seat and he’d never been more jealous of leather.
“This is like—”
“An orgasm?” he quipped.
Her eyes snapped open and face flushed crimson. “Um. Well, no.” She sent him an embarrassed smile. “I was going to say like butter, but without the mess.” She looked at the dashboard and ran her hand across the logo. “You drive a Maserati Ghibli, of course. Why wouldn’t you?”
“You know cars?” He settled into the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition.
Mari leaned toward the blast of air from the ac. “Hmm, it still has that new car smell, too.” She stayed there, letting the cold air wash over her and he couldn’t help but stare. “How long have you had this?” She asked without opening her eyes.
For the first time in ages, he wished he was twenty years younger, but then again, he’d been a righteous prick in his twenties. “About four months,” he answered.
She leaned back on the seat and smiled. “I really don’t know cars, but I had a boyfriend in high school who was a car fanatic.”
“When was that? Last year?” He couldn’t keep the disgruntled retort to himself. It wasn’t her fault that she was young and utterly fuck worthy and he was old and totally leching after her. He turned to apologize.
“No,” she said, a sad little smile twisted across her lips, “last month. We graduated and he was going off to college on the East Coast so we thought it best to make a clean break.”
Patrick felt the bile rise up his throat. He definitely fit into the lech category now.
“You should see the look in your face,” she said, her lips now fighting to stay in a rigid line. “It’s priceless.” He blinked. “I”m sorry,” she laughed, “that was just downright mean, wasn’t it. I think it’s because I’ve been hanging around Jeremy for so long now, his beastliness is starting to rub off.” She patted his arm. “I’ve been out of school for a while. Years, in fact.”
He nodded slowly, fighting his own smile. “That was downright hateful.” He turned the ignition and pulled back into the street.
“I know,” she said, “and I totally had you going.”
“I’ll get you back,” he said. He just had to figure out a way to do it that wouldn't end up as a long weekend of hot, sweaty sex and plenty of tequila.
She smiled. “I know, but you’ll be nicer about it because you’re a gentleman.”
Not right now he wasn’t and she wouldn’t think so if she’d known all the deliciously raunchy thoughts that were running through his head and involved her having a lot less clothes. He said nothing while he drove until they got to the gate, then he just couldn’t help listening to that wicked little voice of his youth.
He leaned across the center partition, his nose almost touching her cheek and dropped his voice into a throaty growl to whisper in her ear, “Will you walk into my parlor, said the spider to the fly.” He caught a scent that reminded him of summer rain and almost buried his face into her neck, but he managed to pull back.
He opened the window and handed the guard his id cards. That little stunt of his had almost backfired, but judging from her speechlessness…he still had game even when his fame had was not involved.
“Thank you, Mr. Westfield,” the guard said handing back the ids, then he simply stared past Patrick and to Mari. “Um..”
Patrick glanced at Mari, who still had a look of a deer caught in the headlights, then he turned back to the guard. “Maraina Stratten is one of the writers for The Odyssey. Next time, if there’s even the slimmest doubt, check with HR before you deny entry.”
“Yes, sir, of course. We apologize for any inconvenience, Ms. Stratten.”
Patrick drove into the studio, but he was really starting to feel like a heel. He’d pushed too far into her personal space and comfort zone, he was sure. He’d never pushed before without clear permission first, regardless of how hot the woman or how hard up he was. Now he had to figure out a way to apologize without embarrassing her and making a further ass of himself.
“This car feels like what I’d imagine it would be like to ride Pegasus,” she said breaking the silence and her fingers grazing the leather armrest. “Like riding a horse on a cloud. All power and smoothness.”
So they were back to the safe topic of the car. He could do that. “I’ll take you for a ride anytime you want.” Did he actually say that out loud? Maybe she wouldn’t notice how sleazy that sounded. This might not be that safe after all since his mind was definitely mired in the muck.
“Why are you here today? You never answered.”
“Jeremy sent me the story arc for the season and the first draft of the script,” he said. “He called Jack and I to go over it.”
Mari nodded. “What did you think?” She was looking down at her jeans, brushing off some non existent lint in order to act nonchalant, but it didn’t take a genius to know she was anything but disinterested in his answer.
“How much did you contribute?”
She shrugged. “Not that much. I’m mostly around to gauge fan reaction.”
“But it was your idea about the contest, right?”
“Sorta,” she said, still not looking at him. In fact, she was looking everywhere but him. “I just wondered if it could be done since there’s a reservoir of talent out there who’d work for beans in order to be involved with the show, but Cate was the one that really made it work.”
He pulled into the closest parking structure next to the offices of the Odyssey crew. "The contest was a great idea. We haven’t had this much buzz around Odyssey in years.”
“It’s not too much? Too intrusive?”
“In this town, the problem arises when they are not talking about you.”
She nodded and they sat in silence for a few seconds. He realized that he really wanted to extend this time with her, but he simply couldn't think of anything that wouldn't sound lame or downright sleazy.
“Thanks for being my knight in shining armor.”
“And letting you ride my trusty steed?” His eyes closed and he dipped his head. Again, with the accidental double entendre. His brain hadn't been this scrambled in the presence of a hot girl since high school. At least she let him off the hook.
She closed her eyes and made that sound which made him think of hot dirty sex. Again. “This car is amazing.”
“I'm starting to think you like my car more than me.” She opened her eyes and looked at him. Damn if he didn’t get lost in those pretty eyes. That’s when he knew he was in trouble. Big trouble. She smiled and briefly touched his arm, before opening the door and getting out. He flipped the lever which opened the trunk before getting out, himself.
She already had her laptop and the trunk closed by the time he walked around the car. “Thanks again.” She waved and started to walk towards the offices.
“Mari?” He called out. She turned back and waited. “I really like the Camerians. I think they’re going to be a great addition.”
Her smile blinded him. She gave him another wave and turned for the doors. There was a definite bounce in her step and he now had a serious problem. Not only did he want her, he really liked her. The sad thing about it all was that it was never going to happen.
Mari was in a daze. Complete and utter daze as she walked through the doors of the office building, up the stairs — because it was great exercise and her ass could use all the help it could get — past several offices until she reached the one that was being used as the brainstorming conference room for Odyssey. She walked in, sat down and tried to remember to breathe. Good god! That man was beyond sex on a stick. It should be against the law for a man to be so utterly…she couldn’t even think of a word for it. He’d been sweet. Easy to talk to, easy to tease. The look in his face when she hinted she was just barely legal. It had been priceless. He’d been charming. Sexy as all get out. And oh, holy guacamole, when he whispered in her ear… She’d never been so turned on in all her life. If he had asked her to strip right then and there, she would have done it in a New York minute. She felt her face warm. She cupped her cheeks and either her face was beat-red or her hands were ridiculously cold in the middle of July. The fact was she would have done anything he asked in that moment. Still might. And he liked the Camerians. God, that man was awesome.
"All right. Who did you meet?”
Mari’s head snapped up only to meet the amused glances of Cate, Wayne and Danny. “Um.” She cleared her throat and licked her lips.
Wayne chuckled. “You have that I just met my favorite celebrity dazed look about you.”
Oh. That. Yeah, how did she explain that she was falling head over heels in lust with one of the lead actors of their show? Right. She wasn’t.
“Well, it’s kinda funny actually.” She looked straight at Cate and started twisting her chair side to side while trying to figure out what to say. She could tell them about the guards, but that would probably lead into talking about Patrick Westfield which she knew that if she mentioned him right now, she’d fan girl gush and that would just be embarrassing.
“Please don’t tell me it was one of dbags from that angtsy teeny bopper high school show,” Cate said with such vehemence that Mari knew there was a story behind the anger, though she wasn’t stupid enough to ask. At least not without copious amounts of alcohol involved.
“No,” Wayne said, looking at her intently, then shaking his head. “It was one of the J's from Supernatural. They are both married, sweetie. Just saying.”
“Come on spill it,” Danny said. “Inquiring minds want to know and these two are gossip mongers won’t let it go until you confess all your sins.”
“Oh good, you’re all here.” Candace Morrow, HR something or other - Mari was having a hard time remembering all the titles - walked in without bothering to knock, but saving Mari from having to answer questions without looking like a rabid fan girl. Morrow handed each of them a stack of papers. “Don’t hate the messenger because both Sterling and Jeremy signed off on this. The First Five, that’s what we are calling the first finalists of the contest have been notified and are being flown in in the next seventy-two hours. That’s the tentative schedule for meeting with them.” She pointed to the packets she handed out. “We will be having a party celebrating the winners this Saturday and it will include a limited press junket which everyone will participate and I mean everyone, Cate.” She stared at her until Cate reluctantly nodded. “Dress code is chic and trendy. So more People’s Choice Awards and less Oscars, but for all that is holy, no crazy MTV outfits. Questions?”
“Are we, and I mean us peons, really meeting with the winners?” Danny asked. “I mean I recognize some these names because we helped vet them, but why are we meeting with them? Isn’t that more big writer, show runners job?”
Candace nodded. “Jeremy wants everyone in on the meetings. He’s the one that set the schedule up so if you’re name is on it, there’s a reason for it.” Danny saluted her and her eyes narrowed. She looked at the others, then turned to Mari. “Helena Caine is coming in at three, you volunteered to meet her?”
“Terrific. Would you be a dear and pick up one of the other winners? His name is,” she looked down and tapped her tablet, “Kirk James. He’s one of the artists. I’ll have a driver ring up for you around one because LAX is going to be a bear this afternoon.”
“I wonder if his middle name is Tiberius,” Danny mumbled, bitting off a laugh.
“If it is, he must hate his parents for all the torture he’s suffered in school,” Wayne replied.
Candace’s brow furrowed in what looked like equal parts confusion and irritation, then arched delicately when Mari didn’t respond.
“Sure,” Mari said. As if she could have said no, though she supposed it was nice of Candace to pretend that she had a choice on whether or not to ferry one of the other contest winners.
“Great,” Candace replied. “There’s nothing planned for tonight so they can go straight to the hotel and kick back. I’ll have their schedules set up for them ready and waiting in their rooms and someone will pick them up in the morning.” She smiled and waltzed out with that same professional elegance that Mari envied. She couldn’t help but wonder if you learned that in school or if it just came natural for some people.
“I hate playing dress up,” Cate grumbled, then smiled at Mari. “Okay, so who left you in a daze?”
Mari met her gaze. “What daze?”