Sunday, 12 June 2011

Free sample chapters of 'No Matter What.' - try before you buy...

I'm still on that long and never-ending road of self-promotion although, to be honest, I've only actually been on it for a fortnight - it just feels like I've been hiking along it's exhausting path for months!  But, as a brand new author who still has a long way to go as far as getting any kind of fan base goes, I shall keep walking that path until I get some results.  I know it isn't going to be easy, and it certainly isn't going to be something that happens overnight, but I'm all too aware that only hard work, determination and patience is going to - hopefully - reap some rewards.  Fingers crossed, anyway. Otherwise I shall give up on this lifelong dream and go back to watching 'Loose Women', dusting the skirting boards and trying anything I can to get that bloody conundrum on 'Countdown'!  Actually, no, scrap that.  That's never going to happen.  A lifelong dream deserves a lifelong fight so, whatever, it takes, I'll do everything I can to make the name of Michelle Betham - author, a name that everybody knows.  Hopefully for the right reasons!

So, with one book already out there for sale and another due for release in a matter of days, it's up to me to try and get them noticed, make people aware.  And what better way to do that than to give people the opportunity to read a couple of free chapters and see what they think!  If you like what you see feel free to buy the whole book.  If you don't like it, then at least you tried it.  And it cost you nothing.  See what you think...





PROLOGUE



London - November 2009
    
        
         The green room was stuffy and hot, a total contrast to the cold November day outside and probably more to do with the under-performing air-conditioning than anything else, but it still made for a slightly uncomfortable atmosphere.  Or that could just be because she was all too aware of what lay ahead, once she left this room.  Still, if she’d been back home in Los Angeles she might have said something, got someone to look at that air-con, but November in L.A. was a lot warmer than November in London so it probably hadn’t even crossed anyone’s mind here to check it out, and she wasn’t one to complain.  Even though she knew that if she had, they would have been on to it like a shot.
         She was slowly getting used to being back in the U.K. but it was still difficult not to feel like a stranger, having spent so much of her life in America.
         Sitting back against the sofa, she crossed her legs and scanned the room, looking far more comfortable than she actually felt as she watched everyone else milling about, chatting amongst themselves.  She was too nervous to do anything but sit there.  She laughed quietly to herself, studying her fingernails.  Nervous?  After all this time and everything that had happened, she was still nervous?  Of course she was!  So much had gone on, so many things - but everything was different now.  Time had moved on.  
         She smiled, still looking down at her hands.  They’d managed to pull it off so beautifully this time, so perfectly.  It had gone like a dream and for that, at least, she was grateful, but she couldn’t wait to get everything out in the open now.  It was time for everyone to know the truth, including those whose reactions she feared.  Those whose reactions she cared about.
         She reached over to the table by her side and picked up her mug of tea - years in the U.S. hadn’t stopped her from loving her tea – taking a quick glance at the plasma TV screen in the corner of the room that was showing everything going on outside in the studio.  The current interview was coming to an end, which meant it wouldn’t be long now, and her stomach lurched slightly, even though she knew what they were going to ask, or she thought she did anyway.  And she knew what she was going to tell them, it wasn’t like she hadn’t gone through anything like this before, but - well, that was then, she thought, taking one last quick sip of her tea as the green room door opened. 
         “Are you ready?”  The young, dark haired runner smiled at India and she smiled back at the girl dressed in skinny jeans and a Rolling Stones t-shirt and thought how she’d been about her age when it had all started to happen – “it” being the journey that was to take her on that rollercoaster of an adventure and bring her right to this point.  A journey she could never forget.  Even the bits she’d tried so hard to.  A journey she had a feeling wasn’t quite over yet.
         She pushed herself up off the sofa, and, as she walked to the door she felt around in the back pocket of her jeans, pulling out the photograph he’d told her to keep with her.  She looked at it for a second, smiling as she quickly returned it to her pocket.  Maybe everything had been worth it after all, and as she followed the runner along the white corridor leading to the studio floor, she felt uplifted, confident that this was all going to be ok because he was going to be by her side, wasn’t he? 
         But then, almost as if they’d appeared from out of nowhere, a mass of people started to gather around her, throwing questions at her from all directions for a reason she couldn’t explain.  She was totally confused.  She had no idea what was happening, or why it was happening, and she swung around to see what was going on behind her.  But, in that split second, in the time it took for her to turn around, she wished with all her heart that she hadn’t looked at all.




BOOK ONE
CHAPTER 1
1991
    

        “Tell me again why we’re here?” India asked Charley as they tried their hardest to blend into a corner, somewhere near the free champagne.  If they had to be here they were having perks.
         “Because Mr Rogers thought we’d make attractive wallpaper, remember?” Charley replied, putting her empty glass down onto the tray of a passing waiter and immediately picking up a fresh one.
         Mr Rogers was one half of ‘Wheatman and Rogers’, a rather prestigious firm of solicitors based in the North East of England and tonight they were hosting a large benefit dinner for charity, an event which had caused a large number of staff members to become rather excited due to the names of some of the rumoured local celebrity guests.  That excitement had been quickly quashed, of course, when everyone had got wind of the ticket prices, with each ticket amounting to more than a month’s wages for most of them, thus rendering the whole evening a non-starter for the majority.
         For legal secretaries India and Charley it had been a non-starter anyway.  Or, at least, it had been in the beginning.  They’d had other plans for that night, like planning their winter holiday to the Spanish Canarian Island of Lanzarote now they finally had the cash to go ahead and book it.  ‘Wheatman and Rogers’ may not have been the height of excitement but at least it provided a steady - if not exactly over-generous - income.  India especially couldn’t wait to get away from the North East for a couple of weeks.  She really needed a break; some time away from the mess that was her family – apart from Terry, her wonderful big brother - and the drudgery of that nine-to-five routine.  They’d also never been away at this time of year so it was even more exciting to think of spending their days sitting in the warm sun sipping sangria whilst back home the winter weather and countdown to Christmas swept the country with a vengeance.
         India Steven was twenty-two years old with long blonde hair that hung down her back in loose, natural curls, large blue eyes and full lips in a face that was more than averagely pretty, infact, most people described her as beautiful but she never saw herself as that.  At five-feet-seven with incredibly long legs and a body perfectly in proportion she’d often been told that she could have been a model, but that wasn’t something she’d ever wanted to pursue.  She was more of a tomboy, and that probably came from having a professional soccer player for a brother. 
         Terry was the only stable thing around her, the only constant in her life.  Sure, they had their parents but they were now divorced and, as usual, far too wrapped up in their own problems to give a thought to their kids, so it had almost always just been India and Terry - the two of them against the world.  She only wished he was closer.  Ever since he’d moved to Merseyside she’d missed him, despite their almost daily conversations.  He’d suggested she move to the North West too, find a job there, start afresh in a new city but she couldn’t quite pluck up the nerve to move away from the only place she’d ever known.  She held the North East of England pretty close to her heart and she didn’t feel ready to leave that familiarity behind just yet. 
         Then there was Charley.  She didn’t really want to leave her behind either.  Charley Miles was twenty-three with long, chocolate-brown hair, dark brown almond-shaped eyes and an almost Mediterranean colour to her skin tone.  She was tall and slim, just like her friend, but whereas India was most definitely the tomboy type, Charley was the archetypal bubbly girlie-girl but they’d hit it off from the day Charley had walked into ‘Wheatman and Rogers’ as the new receptionist.  They’d been best friends ever since, as close as sisters, both of them loud, upfront and outspoken and both of them fiercely loyal to each other.  The only thing they ever disagreed on was music.  India was a bit of a rock chick with a love of anything guitar based, but Charley was more of a pop girl.  It made for an interesting music mix at their parties, anyway.
         They’d just moved into a little first floor flat on the outskirts of Newcastle city centre and spent most weekday evenings having girlie nights in with the usual chick flicks and chocolate and most weekends out on the town.  It was predictable but it was fun, and fun was what India needed right now.  Fun and just a little bit of escapism. 
         This is why they were here really, at this local-celebrity-filled but ultimately dreary benefit dinner that they’d originally planned to avoid, until Mr Rogers had approached India earlier that afternoon and asked her, completely out of the blue, if she and Charley owned anything resembling a cocktail dress.  She’d looked at him like he was mad whilst trying to imagine what a cocktail dress actually looked like, and then managed to ask him why.  He’d explained, totally seriously and without any realisation that he was verging on the sexist, that he wanted a couple of the more “attractive members of the female staff” to attend the dinner – for free – in order to keep some of the male guests that would be attending “entertained” and would she and Charley be up for it.  India had been a bit taken aback at first, a little shocked at what he might have been implying, until he’d finally realised that what he’d said could have come out wrong and explained that he only wanted her and Charley to mingle with the guests, talk to some of the more higher profile ones, engage them in some friendly conversation, and maybe get them to cough up a bit more cash for charity.  He’d always been a bit blunt with a tendency to put his foot in his mouth had Mr Rogers, so he’d left India with the idea and asked her to think about it.  She’d grabbed Charley, thought about it over lunch, and they’d decided it would be a laugh, if nothing else.
         It wasn’t.  It was boring and dull and it wasn’t even eight 0’clock yet.  They still had dinner to sit through and then more mingling.  At least Mr. Rogers had given her and Charley the morning off tomorrow which meant one of those lovely, unexpected weekday lie-ins.  India never took those for granted.
         She took another sip of champagne, catching sight of Mr Rogers over the top of her glass throwing them another one of his “you’re not here to have fun” looks from across the other side of the room.
         No chance of that, India thought to herself, nudging Charley, who appeared to be distracted by something going on at the other end of the room.
         “What’s the matter?” India asked, standing up on tip-toes to try and see what it was that had caught Charley’s attention.
         “I think I’ve just spotted someone who might actually mean this whole evening wasn’t a waste of time after all,” Charley said, turning to India and smiling as India finally caught sight of what, or - to be more precise - who it was that Charley was talking about. 
         “His name wasn’t on the guest list,” India gasped, blinking twice just to make sure her eyes weren’t playing tricks on her.
         “No, it certainly wasn’t.  But he’s with Tim Taylor, y’know, that director guy from North Yorkshire, and I’m sure they’ve been shooting some scenes for a new movie round here.  Down by the coast, I think.  I read it in the paper coming into work the other day.”
         The man who’d just walked into the room, with an entrance that now appeared to be causing quite a stir, was Reece Brogan - movie star - and Hollywood wasn’t something anyone had expected to see tonight but, with the arrival of this very famous Irish actor, it had just walked in through the door, and every head in the room was now turning to catch a glimpse of him. 
         Reece Brogan was in his early forties, tall, tanned and extremely handsome with a smile that could floor any self-respecting female at fifty paces.  He’d first made his name on TV during the 1980’s with a handful of successful series’ before heading to America, where he’d quite easily made the transition into movies and quickly became a name to be reckoned with in Hollywood.  Only the other week India and Charley had seen his latest film at The Odeon and looking at him now, in the flesh, even from a distance, they could see that he was just as good-looking as he was on-screen.  He had a smile that seemed to light up the room and every female in the place seemed to be gravitating towards him.  Even the men looked impressed.
         “Maybe this evening is looking up after all,” Charley smiled, fluffing up her dark curls, running her tongue over her front teeth to remove any lipstick that might have found its way on there.
         India looked at her.  “He’s not going to come and talk to us.”
         “Why not?” Charley asked, as if it was a dead cert that he’d be heading their way any time now.  “Mr Rogers told us to mingle with the guests, didn’t he?”
         “Mingle, not throw yourself at,” India half-smiled, grabbing herself another glass of champagne.  It was going to her head a bit and she found herself almost looking forward to dinner. 
         “I’m going over,” Charley said, in a more than determined tone, until a voice announcing dinner was served stopped her in her tracks.  They both burst out laughing. 
         “Hold that thought, missy,” India giggled.  “Let’s get this over with first.  Then you can think about seducing Mr Gorgeous for dessert.”

***

         India held her glass of brandy close to her chest as she stared out at the view of the Tyne Bridge.  The city stretched out ahead of her, the darkness lit up with what looked like a blanket of twinkling fairy lights as the stars in the clear, night sky met with the street lights and lit-up windows of the buildings, shops and apartments in the distance.  It was a sight that made her realise how much she loved this place.  She was a Northern girl through and through and, no matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t think of herself living anywhere else.  Not without a very good reason, anyway.  Maybe that was boring to some people, and maybe she did lack a certain spirit of adventure, but she liked it here.  She felt safe here.  It was a warm and friendly city filled with warm and friendly people and as long as she was happy here, she saw no reason why she should be anywhere else.
         She took a sip of brandy and shuddered as the liquid burned the back of her throat.  She didn’t usually drink this stuff but she’d found herself being handed a glass so she’d accepted it.  She’d try anything once.  Well, almost anything.  She had limits.  The burning sensation changed to a lovely, warm feeling as it reached her stomach and she closed her eyes for a second, her mind wandering off to the sandy beaches and pool-side bars of their forthcoming holiday, which suddenly reminded her that she hadn’t seen Charley for a while now. 
         She turned round and quickly scanned the room, looking for her friend, whom she’d lost almost immediately dinner had finished and the speeches had begun.  God knows where she was but doubtless she’d hear all about it later. 
         India turned back around and continued to look out of the huge picture window, watching as the people on the street down below shielded themselves from the wind and rain as they hurried about their business.  It was making her feel quite cold just looking at them, collars pulled up around necks and hats shoved tight down onto heads.  She took another small sip of brandy and waited for the warmth to hit her again.
         “Excuse me.”
         A gentle tap on the shoulder made her jump, almost spilling what little brandy was left in the glass.
         “Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you.” 
         She slowly turned around and found herself looking up into the dark and beautiful eyes of none other than Reece Brogan himself.
         “Are you ok?” he continued, in that soft, almost lilting southern Irish accent, with just a hint of American, she realised.  Then she also realised that she was probably staring and quickly pulled herself together, knocking back the rest of the brandy, putting the glass down behind her on the window-sill.
         “I’m ... I’m fine, thanks,” she replied, still trying not to stare at him.  Was that really Reece Brogan, Hollywood movie star, standing there in front of her on a cold Tuesday Autumn night in Newcastle-upon-Tyne?  Or was she just having another of those elaborate but very pleasant dreams she sometimes had?  The ones she never wanted to wake up from.
         “I’ve been watching you all evening,” Reece smiled, sitting down on the window-sill and inviting India to sit down next to him.  She looked around, half expecting to see someone else behind her because she was positive he wasn’t talking to her.
         “Come on, sit down.  I don’t bite,” he laughed.  A rather lovely laugh, India thought as she perched herself carefully down beside him, wondering where the hell Charley was.  For some reason she thought she’d have been with Reece, or at least hovering somewhere near him.
         “Like I said, I’ve been watching you all evening ...” He held up his hands and laughed that laugh again.  “And I didn’t mean that to sound like it did.  I’m not some kind of stalker who picks up women wherever he goes.  Well, not anymore anyway.”
         She smiled nervously, thinking this had to be the most surreal moment of her entire life so far.  She couldn’t wait to get into the office tomorrow afternoon to relay this story.  But, the strange thing was, the more she sat here with him the more comfortable she was beginning to feel in his company.  This famous, handsome actor who made multi-million dollar movies was making her feel totally at ease in his presence.  She’d talk to anyone in reality, she was that kind of person, but somebody as famous as he was – it just felt strange to be so comfortable with him so quickly.  Strange, but nice all the same.  He was just another human being after all, wasn’t he?
         “This is going to sound really odd to you ...” She looked back up at him as he carried on speaking, his voice snapping her back to reality.  The smile had gone from his face now and he suddenly looked serious.  “... but, do you act?”
         India narrowed her eyes at this rather strange question.  “Sorry?”         
         “Have you ever done any acting?”
         “No.  Never.  Why?”
         He pushed a hand through his hair.  “Then this is going to sound even crazier but, back in Los Angeles we’re casting for a film which is due to start shooting very soon.  We’re still looking for the right female lead.”
         India couldn’t help but stare at him now, wondering what the hell any of this had to do with her.  “Your latest film?” she asked, really only opening her mouth to make sure she could still speak.
         He nodded.  “Yes.  Anyway, I’ve been watching you all night; the way you move, the way you laugh ... this really is going to sound odd, but … you’d be perfect for the part.”
         India burst out laughing.  She couldn’t help it.  This had to be some sort of dream.  She only hoped she hadn’t fallen asleep in the toilets and was going to be woken up by the cleaning lady thus missing that weekday lie-in she was so looking forward to.
         “I told you it was crazy but, I’m serious,” Reece said.  “I’m serious.”
         India tried to stop laughing and looked at him.  “Jesus…you are, aren’t you?”
         He nodded.  “We need a British girl, a new, fresh face.  Out there in L.A. we just can’t seem to find the right one.  They’re all trying too hard, all so desperate to be the right girl and all failing miserably.  You’d be perfect.  I’m all set to ring one of the executive producers and tell him I’ve found the perfect girl and ...”
         “Whoa, hold on there!” India said, suddenly sobering up.  “This is all going way too fast and I’m having a bit of trouble taking it all in.”  She looked at him again, still trying to get her head around just who it was that she was having this conversation with.  “Ok.  Now, let me get this right.”  She took a deep breath and composed herself, continuing to look him straight in the eye.  “You’re casting for a film, you need an unknown British girl and you think I could do this?  You think I could act in a Hollywood movie?  You’ve got to be kidding me?  This doesn’t happen in real life.  Actually, this doesn’t even happen in my dreams, I’m not even that lucky.”
         “India ...”
         “You know my name?”  That surprised her slightly because she was positive she hadn’t mentioned it.
         “I heard your friend talking to you earlier.  India, I need you to come to L.A. with me.  I need you to screen test for this part and I need you to be good because I think you are the one we need for this movie.”
         “This is getting weird again.  No, this is getting more than weird, it’s ridiculous!  You – Reece Brogan, famous movie star - want me – India Steven, legal secretary from Newcastle-upon-Tyne - to drop everything, go to L.A. with you, screen test for a movie and possibly get the part?”
         “That’s exactly what I want you to do.  And we leave next week.”



CHAPTER 2
        
        
         Kenny Ross was bored.  He always was when he wasn’t working.  If it was up to him he’d go from one movie to the next without a day’s break.  There just wasn’t that much going on in his life to fill the gaps between films and he hated doing nothing.  It made him feel useless.  And lonely.
         Kenny was a movie star.  He was a Canadian born kid who’d started off his career on the stages of Toronto before taking his chances and moving to Los Angeles six years ago where he’d made one low-budget teen movie before being spotted by a well respected casting agent.  They’d got him a co-starring role in a Michael Walsh movie – one of Hollywood’s elite – and from then on, the rest was history. 
         He was twenty-six year’s old, six-foot-one, with black hair that fell loosely over dark brown eyes and he could only be described as incredibly handsome.  With his olive-toned skin - a trait he thanked his Mediterranean-born mother for – and his sexy swagger he was one of the new breed of Hollywood heart-throbs.  His last movie had been set in the world of surfing and, due to the way he’d worn his wet-suit, it had gained him a whole new batch of fans, young and old. 
         He was movie gold right now, in demand and in that enviable position of being able to pick and choose which scripts he accepted.  He just couldn’t wait to get back on set and get started on his new movie, starring alongside Reece Brogan, another of Hollywood’s elite, but there was a hold-up.  They were having problems finding the right female lead and he couldn’t understand why it was taking them so long.  They’d been screen-testing for weeks and how hard could it be, in a town full of actresses, to find one out there who could take this part?  He knew they wanted a British girl, not an American who could do a British accent, but a bone-fide British girl, but this town was full of those too.  He’d put forward his own ideas and suggestions but they’d all been knocked back.  They wanted an unknown, a new face, someone fresh and exciting and who was he to argue?
         He slid open the glass doors of his front-line Malibu beach house and walked out onto the deck, looking out over the Pacific Ocean at the surfers and joggers who were frequenting the beach.  This was where he wanted to be, right here, in this part of California, in this house with this view.  It calmed him.  He needed it as an antidote to the partying and wild nights that took place well away from here in the Hollywood Hills and Bel Air homes of his friends; the mornings when he’d wake up in a strange hotel room with a woman he couldn’t even remember saying hello to the night before, the nights when he was totally wasted.  But that was the image he had, that was what people knew him for, and he was happy for that to go on because, in Hollywood, image was everything.  But this part of his life was his; he brought none of that here to his home.  This was his sanctuary, and maybe one day he could share all of this with somebody else, but not now.  Not yet.  He had too much living to do and he was more than certain there was no woman out there who could stop him from doing that any time soon.

***

         Reece Brogan was incredibly handsome in a classic, matinee idol kind of way - and very much single.  He’d been single for a long time, preferring the spontaneity of random relationships to the reality and routine of commitment.  He was a renowned bachelor, never seen without a beautiful woman on his arm at whatever party or premiere he was attending.  He was just never usually seen with the same one twice.  With his dark hair and grey-blue eyes, perfect, tanned skin and an accent that veered somewhere between soft Southern Irish tinged with a hint of L.A. twang he was a bit of a charmer, and he’d been quite happy to carry that reputation around with him.  Until something had happened to make him realise there were other things in life, new priorities that needed to be sorted out, and he was sorting them.  Slowly.
         The event he’d been to last night, here in the North East English city of Newcastle- upon-Tyne, wasn’t something he’d usually have attended.  But this one had been different.  It had been for charity, and Reece did a lot for charity.  He’d just finished filming in the city, a city he’d only been to once before in his life, and he’d seen no reason why he shouldn’t show his face and support a good cause.
         What he hadn’t deliberately set out to do was find that much needed leading lady for the film he was due to start shooting in L.A.  That hadn’t been in the forefront of his mind.  He’d had other things to think about.  Important things.  But India Steven had fascinated him.  From the very second he’d laid eyes on her he knew she was it.  She was the one he was looking for.  The one they were all looking for.  If she could act, if the camera loved her then she was going to blow the big screen apart, of that he had no doubt.  She was beautiful, absolutely beautiful, but he got the feeling that she had no idea quite how beautiful she really was.
         He walked over to the window of his hotel room, looking out at the view of the city.  The memories of when he’d last been here suddenly came flooding back and he smiled.  He hadn’t been famous then, far from it.  He’d been young and trying to work his way around as many girls as he could during his visit but the thought that one day he’d be as famous as he was now hadn’t even crossed his mind back then.  If it had he was sure he would have been far more successful as far as the women had been concerned.
         He went back over to the bed, sitting down on the edge of it, picking up his glass of brandy from the bedside table.  He took a long drink and closed his eyes as he remembered the look on India’s face change as he’d spoken to her.  Of course she’d been wary; of course she’d been confused.  How many times did a famous actor approach you out of the blue and tell you you’d be good in movies?  What a line!  But what else could he have said?  He hadn’t intentionally gone looking for a future movie star.  But he had intentionally gone looking for India.
         He put his glass down and picked up the ‘phone, dialling the number in Las Vegas, checking his watch to make sure of the time difference.  It took a few rings before it was answered at the other end and Reece suspected this was because it was the very early hours of the morning over there.  A ‘phone call from him was probably the last thing they’d be expecting. 
         The voice from Vegas was groggy and, unsurprisingly, slightly annoyed.
         “Who the hell is this?  Do you know what time it is?” Vince Maine, one of the movie’s producers, had been in the middle of a particularly pleasant dream involving Julia Roberts and hadn’t taken too kindly to being dragged out of it.
“Vince?  It’s Reece.”
“Reece?  What the hell are you doing calling at this time of the morning?  Couldn’t it wait?”
         Reece ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes again.  “No.  Not really.”
         “Ok,” Vince sighed.  “What is it that’s so important you couldn’t hang on for a few hours?”
         Reece really hoped this was going to work.  He hoped India was going to get out to L.A. and show them that she did have the ability he badly hoped she had.  Because he needed her over there.  India Steven needed to be there, in Los Angeles.  She needed a reason to be there.
         “I’ve found her, Vince.  Our perfect leading lady.  I really think I’ve found her.”

***

         “Oh, for God’s sake, what now!”
         The ‘phone ringing was an irritation because Michael Walsh was tired.  He’d had a day of interviews and photo shoots and all he wanted to do now was sit down in front of the TV with a bourbon on the rocks and watch the news.
         Michael Walsh was a character actor of the highest order, extremely talented at what he did with an incredibly successful movie career.  He could turn his hand to anything – drama, romantic comedy; he could play the villain or the good guy.  He’d avoided that problem of typecasting by taking on a variety of roles in the early part of his career and that had really paid off.  He was a true star, although it was very rare that he ever acted like one.
         His life, however, hadn’t been without the often obligatory womanising, drink and drug-fuelled past that many in his position sometimes fell into.  But that was all behind him now; he’d been there, done that and bought every t-shirt possible.  He’d had three failed marriages and a long stint in re-hab, and that had focused his mind, got him back on track and made him more in demand than ever. 
         He’d finally settled down, bought himself a gated house high in the Hollywood Hills and was now concentrating on his work, thankful that there was plenty of it.
         In his late thirties and staring forty in the face he wasn’t what you’d call conventionally handsome but, despite the slightly receding hairline, he still had the most piercing blue eyes, a devastating smile and more than enough charm to attract the women, although they were few and far between now.  He could do without the distractions and the trouble they’d brought him in the past, but he could turn it on when he needed to, when it suited him. 
         Originally from Chicago his family had moved to L.A. when he was fifteen.  He’d always wanted to be an actor but coming from a family of lawyers and doctors everybody had expected him to take the same route, but he’d rebelled.  He’d graduated from High School but said no to college, instead choosing to throw himself straight into the world of acting. 
         He’d moved himself to New York at the age of nineteen and had spent his days waiting tables and his evenings in acting classes until he’d finally landed a break in an off-Broadway play.  Just a small role but enough to make him realise he’d made the right decision in deciding to take a chance. 
         That small role had been a start.  After that he’d got one or two parts in small New York theatres until a Broadway director had spotted him one evening, met him at the stage door and told him to meet him for lunch the next day.  Dubious, but not one to pass up any opportunity, he’d gone to that meeting and had been handed the Broadway break he’d dreamed of. 
         For the first few years of his career it had been stage acting he was known for, winning many awards for his theatre work.  Awards he was immensely proud of.  But he’d ultimately wanted to work in movies, so he’d found himself an agent who was willing to tout his name around Hollywood to see what opportunities were available, and within a month before he’d packed up his life and relocated back to Los Angeles. 
         The transition from stage actor to big screen star had been easier than he’d imagined, and although it had brought it’s fair share of troubles this town had given him his dream, and he’d be forever grateful.  It had given him chances and he was taking every one, which was why he was now branching out into producing and directing – it seemed the natural progression in his already extremely successful career – with this new, soon-to-begin-shooting Reece Brogan and Kenny Ross movie, if they ever got around to finding a seemingly elusive female lead, that was.         
         It had been partly his idea to go for a new and unknown face, although it was slowly starting to feel like a bad one.  If they couldn’t find anyone soon they’d have to look at re-testing actresses they’d already seen and the thought of that just drained him.
         He leaned over and grudgingly picked up the ‘phone.  “Yep.”
         “Michael?  It’s Vince.” 
         Vince Maine was Michael’s co-producer, his partner in their movie production company, a long-time friend and successful hotel and casino owner from Las Vegas.
         “Vince, how’s it going?”  Michael ran a hand over the back of his neck and hoped this conversation was going to be short.  He wasn’t in the mood for business talk tonight.
         “Guess what?” Vince went on, a hint of excitement in his voice.  “The search is over.  I think we might have found her, Michael.  Our leading lady.  I think we‘ve finally found her.”



CHAPTER 3

        
         India curled up on the sofa, staring blankly at the TV, not really taking anything in.  Last night had been a blur; something like that just didn’t happen to people in real-life.  Not people like her, anyway.  Famous film stars didn’t just come up to people and tell them they’d be perfect in movies.  Life wasn’t that fantastic.
         Charley sat down next to her, nudging her gently, handing her a cup of tea.
         “Here you go.  Drink this.  I’ve made some toast, if you want some.”
         India shook her head, smiling at her friend as she took the tea she held out to her.  “No, thanks.  I’m not hungry.”
         Charley settled herself into the corner of the sofa, hugging her knees to her chest as she looked at India.  “Are you going in to work this afternoon?”
         India shrugged, staring down into her tea.  “I don’t know what to do, Charley.”
         “I’d be packing if it was me.  Los Angeles or Newcastle?  Hmmm, let me think about that, for about a nanosecond.”
         India looked at her.  “Come on, Charley.  It’s ridiculous!  Nobody just walks up to someone and says ‘come out to L.A., you’d be perfect for our movie’.  It just doesn’t happen.”
         “It happened to you.”
         Charley couldn’t believe India was even thinking about it.  If Reece Brogan had walked up to her and told her he was taking her to L.A. next week she’d have been packed and out of that flat quicker than you could say Red Carpet!  But Charley wasn’t India.  Charley didn’t always think before she did things.  India sometimes thought too much.
         India took a drink, blowing on the tea to cool it down.  “I can’t just go swanning off to Los Angeles, Charley.”
         “Why not?”
         India looked at her friend again.  “So, you think I should just drop everything and bugger off to America with a total stranger?”
         “He’s not a stranger, he’s Reece Brogan!  And he’s gorgeous!”
         “He’s a stranger, Charley.  I don’t know him; I don’t know anything about what he’s telling me, I don’t know anything about movies or acting … Jesus, this is mad!”
She sat back against the cushions, closing her eyes.  “And what about Terry?”
         “What about him?” Charley asked, gently taking the mug out of India’s hands, placing it on the table beside her.  “He’s twenty-five years old, he can look after himself.”
         “I mean, what’s he going to say when he finds out I’m thinking about running off to Hollywood with Reece Brogan to chase some half-cocked promise of a movie career?  You see, just saying it out loud sounds ridiculous.”
         “He’s your brother not your keeper, India.  And if you’re that worried about it, don’t tell him yet.  But this is a chance of a lifetime here.  You can’t pass this up.”
         “I never even wanted to be an actress,” India sighed, closing her eyes again. “Never.”
         “Really?”  Charley settled back into position.  “Christ.  I have.”
         India opened her eyes and looked at Charley, smiling slightly.  “Have you?”
         “God, yes!  What I wouldn’t give to walk up a red carpet at my own movie premiere dressed in designer clothes on the arm of someone like Kenny Ross.”  She sat forward, looking at India.  “Kenny Ross, India.  You have the chance to be in a movie with Kenny Ross!  I can’t believe we’re even sitting here having this conversation!  You should be out shopping for something stunning to knock him dead with.”
         India sat up and pushed her hands through her long blonde hair, sighing heavily. “It’s a chance, Charley.  That’s all it is.  A chance to be in a movie.  I’ve got to do a screen test and God knows what else before I even get that far.”  She stood up, pacing the floor.  “And I might not even get to meet Kenny Ross.  If I completely mess up the screen test I could be back on a ‘plane home without having even set eyes on him.”
         “You don’t know who you’ll be screen testing with yet?”
         She shook her head.  “No.  Reece couldn’t tell me.  He’s got to call the producers, run things past the director ... have I told you who the director is?”
         Charley shook her head.  “Who is it?”
         “Michael Walsh.”
         Charley put a hand over her mouth, stifling a little screech.  “Michael Walsh?  Oh my God, India, you have to do this!  What the hell are you waiting for?”
         “I’m waiting for sense to kick in.  I can’t do it, Charley; it’s not in me to do something like this.  And I can’t just give up my job.  What happens if nothing comes of it?  Which is highly likely.”
         “You don’t have to give it up, do you?  You’re owed some holiday, just take that.  But for heavens sake, India, don’t pass up this chance.  Come on.  Live a little.  Throw caution to the bloody wind and do something wild and crazy, something out of character.”
         “Are you saying I’m boring?”
         “No,” Charley laughed, getting up and walking over to the sideboard.  “I’m not saying you’re boring.  I’m saying you have to stop analysing everything and just grab this amazing chance with both hands.  No matter how mad and ridiculous it sounds. Just do it.”
         India looked at the TV again.  They were talking to a famous actress about her new movie.  She looked happy, confident, and beautiful.
         “That could be you, India,” Charley said, rummaging about in one of the drawers.  “In a few months time, that could be you.”
         “Don’t talk crap, Charley.  This is all just one big dream.  It isn’t me.  I don’t do this kind of thing, you know I don’t.”
         Charley turned around and smiled, waving India’s passport infront of her.  “You do now, mate.  You bloody do now.”

***

         Terry Steven opened the door of his Liverpool home, flung his kit bag on the hall floor and made his way into the kitchen, opening the fridge and grabbing the milk, flicking the kettle on as he passed.
         Training was finished for the day and the afternoon stretched out ahead of him.  He’d been asked by the other lads on the team if he’d wanted to join them for a round of golf but his heart wasn’t in it today.  For some reason he felt a little on edge, as if something was going on he didn’t know about.  He’d felt like that all day and he couldn’t put his finger on why.  If anything was up with India then surely he’d know about it.  He shook his head, almost as if to shake away the doubt.  Of course he would, she told him everything.  Well, at least she told him she did.
         Terry was a professional soccer player.  Not hugely famous but he played in the First Division and the money he was on was good.  He lived in a modest – in footballing terms – modern apartment on the outskirts of Chester and he had a life most men his age would kill for.
         Twenty-five years old and single, although not for the want of trying, he was a handsome young man, very handsome in the eyes of some girls, tall with dark brown hair and green eyes and a smile that made his whole face light up.  But he was the kind of man who wondered whether the girls he met wanted him for him or the fact he was a footballer, and this meant that he found it hard to get close to anyone.  He spent more nights in playing computer games and watching sport than he did trawling the clubs of Liverpool and Manchester like most of his team mates, but he still enjoyed the odd night out.  Now and again he even allowed himself the pleasure of the company of one or two women, he just never seemed to be able to let himself take that next step into a relationship.  Sometimes he wondered if that was because of his parents.  They’d had their fair share of problems and growing up in the same house as them had never been easy, especially after India had been born.  That’s when it had all started to go wrong, really.
         The kettle flicked off and he poured the boiling water into his mug, realising he’d forgotten to put in the teabag.  Rooting around in the back of the cupboard he managed to find a box containing three teabags.  Looked like shopping was on the cards this afternoon then. 
         He carried his tea over to the kitchen table and sat down with the newspaper, aimlessly flicking through it but not taking notice of anything.  He was too busy remembering the day he and India had been told they were actually only half brother and sister - the day before his thirteenth birthday. 
         Their mum had always been a bit of a hippie at heart, a child of the sixties. She’d followed The Beatles through every phase and had seemed to share that whole concept of free love that was floating around in the latter part of that decade.  So much so that a one night fling at a music festival had resulted in the birth of his little sister, named India because of the fact The Beatles had visited that country in their hippie phase and their mother had always wanted to go there.  His dad had never been anywhere farther than Blackpool on a caravan holiday in 1962 and had gone ballistic when the truth had come out.  Their mother may have been scatty with a head full of idealistic dreams but she hadn’t been able to keep the fling a secret from her husband.  He’d stood by her, brought India up as his own, but their relationship had never been the same again.  There’d been rows, recriminations and countless affairs for both of them meaning that, for Terry and India, home life had never been settled.  They’d both escaped outside on their bikes or to the field at the top of their street to kick a football about with their mates, more often than not ending up back at someone else’s house for tea where they’d experienced what it was like to have a mum and dad who weren’t fighting constantly or disappearing off out with their latest fling not knowing whether they’d be back home that night or not. 
         It had been tough but it had brought him and India closer.  She’d been a little tomboy growing up, always in jeans and trainers and never bothered about falling over and scuffing her knees or elbows.  Scars were never something she’d cared about, and she hadn’t changed that much now if he thought about it.  Sure, she’d grown up into a great looking kid but she never felt comfortable in the skirts and heels she had to wear for work, she’d told him that herself.
         He smiled at the thought of his baby sister, all blonde hair and blue eyes, and he wished she was here with him so he could keep a closer eye on her.  She never mentioned anything about any men she dated and he only hoped that any who did cross her path looked after her, or they’d have him to answer to.  To all intents and purposes she was all he had due to the total lack of concern coming from any parent, and he just wanted to make sure she was ok. 
         She’d handled the whole half brother/sister thing much better than he had but he often wondered if it played on her mind.  She’d never asked their mum anything about her father and he often wondered if she ever thought about him.  Especially after the recent divorce of their parents.  He was surprised it hadn’t made India think more about her real dad.
         He shook himself out of those thoughts and took a large gulp of now lukewarm tea, shutting the paper and pushing his chair back, standing up just as the ‘phone rang.
He picked it up and leaned back against the kitchen counter.
         “Hello?”
         “Terry?  It’s India.”
         “India!  Hey, sweetheart, can you speak up a bit?  The line’s really dodgy and I can’t hear you very well.  You sound like you’re on the other side of the world or something.”
         “Well, actually, it’s funny you should say that ...”



CHAPTER 4
    
     India felt sick.  Kenny Ross - she’d been told she’d be screen testing with Kenny Ross and now all the nerves she’d had in the first place had multiplied tenfold.  What the hell was she doing here?  Why she’d let Charley talk her into doing this she had no idea.  She’d left the safety of a city she knew like the back of her hand and the security of a job that she rather liked to fly over to L.A. with Reece Brogan - movie star - and screen test for a Hollywood film!  She was quite positive she was still in the middle of some crazy dream and she’d wake up any minute infront of TVAM and the familiar voice of Anne Diamond telling her everything was as it should be.
         She sat down on the edge of her hotel bed and looked around the room.  It was amazing!  She was more used to the basic hotels they’d experienced on holiday in Benidorm and Ibiza, or the B & B’s they’d stayed in when she and Charley went out of town to see some band or other.  She wasn’t used to king-size beds, big screen TV’s and bathrooms with telephones in them.  What was that all about?
         She got up and went over to the mini-bar, opening it up and looking inside.  Gin.  No, not her kind of drink.  Vodka.  That was more like it.  She took out the miniature bottle and opened it, not even bothering to look for a glass.  Sitting back down on the bed she finished the drink in two mouthfuls, letting the warm liquid slide down her throat, choking slightly as she swallowed too quickly.
         Her mind wandered back to the screen test and the information she’d now been told.  She’d automatically thought she’d be testing with Reece but that wasn’t the case.  The part she was testing for would have the most scenes with Kenny Ross; therefore the chemistry had to be right.  She felt quite ill at the thought.  She’d had a huge crush on Kenny Ross for ages, a real daydream-every-second-about-him kind of crush.  The kind of stupid crush that meant you went to see one of his films five times in one week just-because-he-looked-so-hot kind of crush, and now she was going to be standing right beside him, looking at him in the flesh, and she couldn’t quite get her head around it all.  It was too much, it was like some crazy dream that was skipping from scene to scene far too fast so it all became disjointed and surreal.  Yet here she was, sitting in a hotel room in the middle of Los Angeles waiting to do a screen test with a Hollywood actor she’d thought she would only ever dream about meeting.  It was mad!
         She fell back onto the bed and threw her arms up above her head, staring at the stark white ceiling above her.  She was shattered and emotional.  She’d only arrived in L.A. two days ago but this was the first time she’d had a chance to actually sit down and take it all in.  Reece had been amazing; it was hard to believe he was such a big star because he was so down-to-earth.  He’d made it really easy for her to become totally comfortable with him as he’d carefully explained everything that would be happening when they arrived in the U.S.A.  Her feet hadn’t touched the ground since, but Reece had been with her every step of the way.  He’d organised visa’s, every piece of paperwork she’d needed; he’d done all of that for her because she’d been in a complete daze since that night in Newcastle.
         As soon as they’d arrived in L.A. he’d showed her around, made sure she knew what was what, but there was so much to take in.  Her head had been spinning ever since she’d got off the ‘plane.  She’d had meetings with one of the movie’s executive producers, a friendly and funny guy in his thirties called Vince, who’d made her feel completely at ease in a totally alien environment.  She’d been introduced to agents and casting directors, she’d listened to advice and had been talked at until she could no longer think straight.  She’d had photographs taken in a professional studio and they’d made her look incredible, but none of it felt like it was happening to her.  It was almost as if she was watching it all happening to somebody else and she was just hovering around on the sidelines.
         She’d also found out that Michael Walsh, the movie’s director and another actor she greatly admired, was going to be conducting the screen test tomorrow and that had done nothing to abate any of the nerves building up in her tightly knotted stomach.  She’d never sleep tonight, that was a given.
         Sitting up, she reached for the remote control, flicked on the TV and started skipping through the channels.  She was missing ‘Coronation Street’.  She should be at home, with a cup of tea, watching the soaps instead of whatever it was she was supposed to be doing here.  She finally fell upon a comedy show she recognised and left it playing in the background as she got up and walked over to the window.
         Terry had gone mad when she’d ‘phoned him from the airport and told him where she was.  He couldn’t believe she’d just upped and left the U.K. with a strange -  even if he was incredibly famous - man and his entourage and gone to The States on some whim.  He’d found Reece’s whole spiel of an acting role in a movie wholly suspicious and the more she thought about it, that’s exactly how it must have sounded when she’d relayed what had happened back to him.  This wasn’t a usual occurrence in anyone’s life let alone an ordinary twenty-two year old Geordie girl’s so he had every right to be suspicious.  He was her big brother and he worried about her.  What she was doing must be giving him sleepless nights. 
         She pushed a hand through her hair and sighed, leaving the view of palm tree- lined streets behind her as she walked into the bathroom, going over to the sink and splashing cold water on her face.  She felt guilty now.  She should have thought this through, she should have told Reece he was crazy and gone back to work at ‘Wheatman and Rogers’ and forgotten all about this whole stupid idea.  What on earth was she doing?
         She walked back into the bedroom and sat down on the edge of the huge king-size bed, reaching for the ‘phone.  Maybe hearing about what was going on back home in the real world might help calm her down a bit and she punched in Charley’s number.  She couldn’t help smiling to herself.  Charley was going to freak at the news she was going to be up close with Kenny Ross tomorrow, and she couldn’t wait to tell her.
        
***

         Charley put down the ‘phone and sat back in the chair behind her reception desk at ‘Wheatman and Rogers’, sighing loudly as she looked at the normality going on all around her while India was in the middle of a dream. 
         She couldn’t believe her friend was going to be meeting the gorgeous Kenny Ross tomorrow.  How many times had the pair of them watched his films and fantasised about what it would be like to meet him, to look up into those gorgeous, dark eyes of his?  Now India was going to be doing just that. 
         She fiddled with the pen she was holding, unable to stop the wave of jealousy sweeping over her.  It could have been her that Reece had approached if only she hadn’t got talking to David Henderson.  He might be on track to become a partner in the firm, and he was really good-looking with a healthy bank account and a Mercedes, but if she hadn’t let that one little episode of flirting distract her then surely Reece would have come to her instead of India?  She was better looking for sure.  What was it in India he’d seen?  She should have done what she’d originally planned and stayed close to Reece that night, made sure he’d known she existed instead of disappearing off like she had.  She could kick herself!  She was happy for India, ofcourse she was.  She was her best friend and this was a fantastic opportunity for her.  But Charley couldn’t help feeling just a tiny bit jealous.
         She leant forward and rested her chin in the palm of her hand as she watched Mr Rogers perch himself on the edge of the desk occupied by the pretty young temp who was covering for India, giving her that smile of his that he reserved for all the younger female members of staff.  He had no idea that it made their skin crawl and that they all giggled about his clumsy attempts at flirting when they gathered in the kitchen at lunchtimes.
         Charley smiled to herself.  She was lucky, this was a good place to work with great people and she was grateful, but she couldn’t help feeling she wanted more now.  India had been given a chance to get out of this rut, and surely she deserved it just as much as India did?
         Scribbling absent-mindedly on a scrap of paper she sighed heavily again.  Yes, she definitely deserved that chance too, that chance for something different, that chance to make her dreams come true.  But then, India might never get that chance either.  All of this could come to nothing and before anyone knew it she could be back here in the office, getting on with everyday life just like they’d always done. 
         She closed her eyes for a second and opened them quickly, almost as if hoping that, when she did, she’d be somewhere else, but it was all exactly the same.  Somehow, though, Charley had a feeling it was never going to be exactly the same ever again.  For either of them.

***

         Reece Brogan should have been worried.  He was putting his neck on the line by introducing this quiet, unknown young girl into a world she had no idea about when he didn’t even know if she could act, but he wasn’t.  He wasn’t worried in the slightest.  He’d watched her from across the room that evening in Newcastle, he’d seen the way she’d moved, the way she’d smiled at people, the way people had responded to her.  It was so natural, so effortless with her and she really had no idea of that, which is what made her so real, and so different to anyone else he’d seen go up for this part.
         He’d known from the second he’d seen her that she was the one this movie needed, she was the girl they’d been searching for and he’d had to do what he’d done, he’d had to bring her over to L.A.  Maybe he was going to turn her life upside down and take the biggest chance he was ever going to take but he was sure she was going to be perfect.  He certainly hoped so.  Because this movie wasn’t the only reason he’d had to bring her here to L.A.  It wasn’t the only reason at all.
         He picked up proofs of the photographs they’d had taken of her only that morning and looked at them.  She was beautiful; there was no doubt about that.  If she got this part she and Kenny were going to look so good together on screen.  But if she got this part her life was also going to change beyond any recognition and he felt just a little bit guilty about that.  Being thrust into all of this could be dangerous.  He’d seen what this city and this industry could do to young actors and actresses – both the famous and the not-so-famous – and he didn’t want that to happen to India.  She was already special to him; already someone he wanted – needed - to get to know more, whatever the outcome of this screen test.  That was extremely important to him.
         He put the photographs back down on the table infront of him and sat back, putting his hands behind his head and closing his eyes.  He’d protect her; he’d already made his mind up about that.  He had to make sure she was ok.  He’d found her, he’d brought her here, and it was his job to make sure nothing and nobody hurt her.  Ever.

***

         “She’s got it, Michael.  Reece might be right y’know.  We may be taking the biggest gamble of our lives here but he might just be right.”
         Michael Walsh looked at his co-producer.  They didn’t have the money to be wasting time on somebody who wasn’t going to even come close to cutting it but he seemed outnumbered on this one.  Everybody who’d already met the mysterious India seemed to think she had something, but what he was concerned about was whether that “something” was going to translate onto film.  She was totally and utterly new to acting of any description and that in itself was making him uneasy.  He hadn’t even seen what she looked like yet.
         “Here.  Take a look at these,” Vince went on, handing Michael the envelope containing India’s photographs.  “She’s certainly got the looks.”
         “Not much use if she can’t act, Vince,” Michael said, sliding the pictures out and looking into the face of this girl for the very first time.  And in that second something hit him, a feeling that could only be described as akin to someone reaching into the pit of his stomach and punching him hard.  He couldn’t explain it and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.
         He was vaguely aware of Vince’s voice in the background as he flicked through every photograph, taking in every inch of her face.
         “She’s a looker, isn’t she?”  Vince said, getting up and pouring them both a drink.
         Michael didn’t reply, just kept on looking through the photographs.
         “Michael?”
         Vince sat back down and handed him his bourbon.  Michael knocked it back in one, throwing the photographs down onto the table.
         “Are we sure Kenny Ross is right for the male lead?”
         Vince looked at Michael like he was mad.  “What the hell are you talking about?  Of course he’s right for the role, he’s perfect!”
         “He was perfect before she came on the scene, Vince.  Now I’m not so sure.”
         “You’re crazy, Mike!  You can’t go changing male leads now, and I don’t even believe we’re having this conversation.  Kenny is the only guy we ever considered for this part, he is the part and she is going to be perfect alongside him.  I’m telling you, we’ve found the dream pairing here.”
         Michael closed his eyes and rubbed them with his fingertips.  He suddenly felt very tired.
         “We’ve got the screen test in the morning,” Vince said, standing up and picking up his jacket, flinging it over his shoulder. 
         “I’m well aware of that,” Michael sighed, opening his eyes and leaning back in his chair.
         “So, you just wait and see.  I’m telling you, they are gonna be perfect on screen together, I can feel it.  And just think of the publicity it’s gonna generate, Mike.  A totally unknown girl from Northern England and one of Hollywood’s hottest young actors.  We couldn’t buy that kind of publicity.”
         Michael watched his friend walk towards the door, picking up his car keys on the way.
         “The perfect couple, Michael.  We might just have created the perfect couple.”
         And that was exactly what Michael was afraid of.
© Michelle Betham 2011 


So there you go.  A little taster, a chance to try before you buy, and it's something I'll be doing for all of my books.  

But, if you like the sound of 'No Matter What', and believe me, this story just gets better, with more twists and turns than a Grand Prix Race Circuit!  If pure escapism is your bag then this might just be the book for you. And if you would like to purchase a copy - available only as an eBook at the moment I'm afraid - then here's the link to it on both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com





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