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Solitude & Sea Glass

This excerpt is unedited.
____________

CHAPTER 1

“You aren’t a girl.” The obviousness of that statement only made the situation more horrible.

Eyes the color of the finest dark chocolate ganache gleamed at Holland Faust through the longest, thickest, blackest eyelashes he’d ever seen. He knew several celebrities—noted for their beauty—who would commit cold, calculated murder to have those eyelashes. He swallowed down the urge to dwell on how those lashes would feel feathered against his lips. Even rain-washed and dripping water on the entry floor, his new assistant had to be one of the most handsome men Holland had ever seen. Man...male...extremely so.

A smile appeared on perfectly shaped lips and spread up to light those eyes. Dear God, he twinkles. Even soaking wet, he twinkles. Holland’s knees went weak and he settled a hand on the banister to keep himself upright. 

A ball of silvery exuberance bounded across the foyer, utterly unconcerned about the wet state of their visitor. Pink tongue lolling, Rex wriggled and pounced in greeting before his black button nose settled directly in Beauty’s crotch.

“Hey! Aren’t you cute?” Beauty bent to ruffle the Wheaten terrier’s fur as he smiled up at Hol. “No, I’m not a girl. But don’t you worry; I get that an awful lot.”

Holland couldn’t stifle the faint gasp. An accent? On top of the twinkle, a perfect mouth, a face of boyish masculine beauty and a body of such pleasing proportions even a wet, ill-fitting suit couldn’t hide it, the beauty’s tones were tinted by the faintest, sweetest mountain twang. Holland’s stomach flipped over and became home to a plethora of butterflies.

He swallowed again. “I’m sorry; I was expecting a woman. Your application says Ruby. Rubys are generally female.” And Holland’s assistants were always women. He never hired men. Certainly not men of such sheer prettiness. His brain refused to do anything but dwell on that beauty and he could only stare at his new assistant in mounting horror. This was exactly why he never hired men.

“I promise you it wasn’t my idea. My parents have an...unconventional streak.” Ruby slicked wet hair from those incredible eyes and turned his attention to his sodden clothes, chuckling as Rex tried a second assault. “You going to help, huh?”

Holland watched the soaked sport coat drop away, leaving a nearly transparent white T-shirt and clinging trousers. That shirt! Merciful Lord help me. Wet cotton clung to every curve of sculpted chest and well-defined shoulders. Even a lifetime in Hollywood hadn’t prepared him for that sort of beauty.

This was not in any way what he imagined when his housekeeper relayed the call from the mainland. “Your agent called. Your assistant landed at Trenton and is on the charter boat you arranged. They estimate an hour and a half. We’ll leave as soon as he and his luggage are on the dock. We’ll need to hurry before the seas get too rough or we won’t get to the mainland in time to see my new grandchild into the world.” Unfortunately, the “he” part of the message hadn’t registered at all with Holland. His agent knew; he didn’t have male assistants. Now a dripping wet one stood in his foyer.

The remnants of a hurricane sweeping the Maine coast weren’t that unusual. A nuisance, to be sure, and not the way he generally like for his summer interns to see his island, but not a calamity. This young man, however... Well, if not a calamity then certainly a colossal inconvenience for all.

“I’m wet clean through.” Musical tones washed over Holland’s ears and he forgot about the calamity for the moment. “Can I borrow a shirt? All my stuff’s down in the boat shed so it’ll stay dry ‘til this passes.” A chocolate gaze swept Hol. “I think we might be the same size.” The gaze continued its journey. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do for pants, though. A robe? I’m sorry, but I’m freezing. I really need to get out of these clothes.”

Hol’s mind blanked. “Robe. Right.” The T-shirt stripped away and he fled up the stairs to find a robe.

Halfway up the stairs the panic shattered. He shouldn’t be dealing with this. He never dealt with things like this. His requests were perfectly clear. Anger replaced the panic and he headed for the phone. The speed dial flew through its rough melody as he pressed it to his ear and headed for his closet. The distant ring lasted longer than he liked and he jerked a robe off a hanger.

“Hello?”

“Jacquee, there’s a young man in my foyer.” The resonance the critics had loved filled his voice. “A very handsome young man with a very female first name. Would you care to explain how that happened? You are supposed to personally screen all applicants for the position of my summer assistant.”

“Holland, darling. Of course I screen the applicants. Mr. Keagan is an exemplary young man with the administrative and humanitarian background you need. He’ll be perfect.” His agent’s smoky British tones did nothing to soothe him this time. He could see the broad smile on her heart-shaped face and the way her hand went to one no-doubt large, dangly earring.

“Don’t ‘darling’ me, Jacquee! You did this on purpose. Well, I won’t have it. I don’t know what sort of severance package you arranged, but get ready to option it.” He paced to the window to watch the storm-tossed trees, grateful he’d dimmed the lights earlier. Excellent set dressing. They perfectly matched his mood. “He leaves immediately.”

“Uh, that might be a problem tonight.” Ruby waved a hand from the doorway, riveting Holland’s attention on that gorgeous, now-shirtless form again. Rex pushed the young man forward with a sudden, still-joyous greeting, Wheaten style – nose planted firmly to Ruby’s amazingly shapely derrière. “They told me at the airport a small craft advisory was issued. I was the last trip and then the charter was headed for safe harbor.” Dark, decadent eyes clouded in confusion as Rex continued to nudge and wriggle. “Is something wrong?”

“Rex! Down.” If Holland ever allowed himself to curse, he would have done so now. “Jacquee, don’t you dare hang up. I’ll be right back with you.” He forced a smile for Ruby. “I’m sorry, Mr. Keagan. This is in no way personal.” He spoke with emphasis into the receiver. “I simply have a long-standing, inflexible rule that the position of summer intern with my charity be filled by a female.” He spat the last word. 

“‘Kay.” Lord, that soft drawl turned one syllable into a symphony. “Um, look, if I could just borrow the robe I’ll let you hash things out. Is, uh, there a place I could hang up my stuff to dry?”

The earnest tone of that rich voice derailed Holland’s rant and some of his mood. It really wasn’t the poor man’s fault he’d been set up.

“Apparently the same place I left my manners. I’ll call you back, Jacquee.” Hol ended the call and tossed the phone on the bed. “Forgive me.” He held out the robe, taking the few steps necessary to reach the young man. “My bathroom’s through there. There should be towels and a pair of slippers. Please, do make yourself as comfortable as you can.” Anger set on simmer so he wasn’t blinded by it any longer, he noticed chill bumps covering the muscular arms. “Perhaps a warm shower to thaw you out? Do feel free.”

“Wouldn’t say no to that.” That bright smile flashed again, a little wary but no less beautiful. “Just spent six months in New Orleans, helping out with the rebuilding. This feels like dead winter.”

An answering smile tugged the corners of Hol’s lips. “I would imagine so.” He pulled up the courtly charm instilled in him by the most expensive etiquette teachers the studio could find and opened the bathroom door. “Please, don’t delay. Warm up and I’ll explain why I can’t offer you employment. I assure you, though; you’ll be completely taken care of for your trouble and disappointment. This really does have nothing to do with you.” He stepped back to let Ruby pass, holding Rex back when the dog would have joined their unexpected guest.

Ruby’s dark eyes held him in place. “Maybe not. But I’m the best damn assistant you’ll find.” A mischievous gleam set Holland’s heart somersaulting again. “And my coffee’s a sight better than any of those Ivy-League coeds could come up with. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”

Holland tried his damnedest not to watch the sway of Ruby’s hips or the way wet trousers clung to the rounded curve of a perfect ass. He really, truly did. The closing of the bathroom door was a blessed relief.

*     *     *

Ruby sighed as hot water cascaded over his chilled form. Damn, Maine in summer was colder than West-By-God-Virginia in October. And so was Holland Faust.

Right, actor. Ruby got that. Big time Hollywood star. Knew that, too. That still didn’t give the man the right to treat people like trash on a dirt floor. Anger flashed up and Ruby had to practice a few yoga breaths to keep from breaking something. Violence is seldom the answer. He repeated his Mama’s mantra. After a bit, the rush of water and the breathing helped.

Okay, he’d be able to look Mr. Holland Faust in the eye without planting a fist in his face. He turned off the water and toweled off. Disappointment replaced the anger. Looked like the rumors were true. Only women need apply.

He took a moment to analyze why he felt disappointed. So yeah, he had a little crush on Holland – when he was fourteen. Surely he was over that by now. All the girls had a crush on the star. And most of the gay boys like Ruby. So his idol had feet of very common clay. Big deal. Anybody who’d been a TV and movie star since they were a little kid had to be messed up beyond belief.

And Holland Faust had been a big name since the age of eight. He was bound to be a shallow egotist with no idea how to treat real people. He’d grown up learning nothing but how to get ahead and stay ahead in one of the most cutthroat businesses on the planet. So, yeah, the famed Golden Boy was made of clay covered by fools-gold. Surely at thirty-one Ruby knew that was likely. Surely.

He reached for the robe and laughed. Monogrammed. At fourteen, wearing Holland’s robe would have been the apex of his daydreams. He smoothed his hand over the white-on-white stitching. His favorite teen idol’s robe. He slipped into its warm depths. It smelled faintly of sandalwood and lavender. Holland’s cologne and soap. Clay feet or not, it was still pretty cool. Hair toweled and finger-combed, slippers found, chill-bumps finally gone, Ruby felt better able to meet the world. And his old crush. 

No longer muffled by the shower and the tightly closed bathroom door, a rush of wind moaned over the house, the crash of surf audible even through double-paned windows. He made his way down the small hallway back into the master suite, hoping to find his way back to wherever Holland might have gone.

Wow. Holland might be clay, but the idol still looked golden. Especially silhouetted against a bank of windows with the storm providing a perfect backdrop for him. Lightning only made it more obvious time had been kind to the actor, leaving him trim and fit as he’d been in his hey-day. Ruby’s fingers itched to stroke the nape of that soft clingy sweater, the cream color perfect with Holland’s pale blond hair. Ruby swallowed. “Mr. Faust?”

“Please, sit down.” An elegant hand gestured toward the small sitting area in the suite. “There’s a brandy, if you’d like. I fear my temper got the best of my manners.” That pale gaze remained on the storm. Half-dark, the low lighting in the room allowed for a great view of the storm. Beautiful, especially when the lightning flashed silver over Holland’s features. 

The brandy sounded really good. “Thanks. I’m just not sure what your problem is with me.” Ruby settled on a comfortable white leather chair. What a room! Everything white and cream, golden burl furniture and varnished wood walls, little pillows or objects d’art in gold, deep blue, or soft lavender. Even the plush doggie bed Rex had curled up in coordinated. All a perfect setting for Holland’s coloring. Just like a movie set.

Ruby resisted the urge to shake his head and reached for the brandy instead. “I really am an excellent administrative assistant with an in-depth knowledge of non-profit organizations. Especially yours.”

“Mine?” Holland half-turned, then stopped and took a sip of his own brandy. “Why do you say especially mine?”

“I grew up in Appalachia, though the accent’s sort of a giveaway on that. My folks moved to Tennessee from the Smokies of North Carolina when I was five or six. To work for you. They run one of your education stations and food banks. Billie and Leslie Keagan.” He always grinned when he said his folks’ names. “Billie’s my mom and Leslie’s my dad. It’s not so surprising they named me Ruby.” 

A bright flash from outside rimmed Holland in blue radiance and Ruby realized the once-pale blond at Holland’s temples had gone pure white. So, not completely untouched by time. And not vain enough to dye his hair. The remnants of Ruby’s smile reknit itself. Maybe not completely clay. There was a bit of gold after all. 

“I remember them. Good people.” Silence lasted through two flashes of lightning before a deep sigh lifted those broad shoulders and filled out the chest Ruby used to daydream about. “Mr. Keagan, it’s not that I don’t believe you can do the job. I just... I don’t have male assistants. Ever. And Jacquee knows that. I’m sorry you were pulled into the middle of this.”

Ruby lifted an eyebrow. Back to clay. “Well, I realize it can get lonely out here and a girl would be nice for you to have around and all. But you don’t have to fire me just so you can find someone cute to bring you coffee or whatever.” Yeah, Ruby imagined there was a lot of whatever. “I can take care of your charity business better than anyone you’ve ever had work for you.”

Holland froze, the lean form going taut and a cold glare flashing in sync with the next round of lightning. “What exactly are you inferring, Mr., Keagan? That I...take advantage of my female assistants?” The brandy snifter hit the small end table with a fair amount of force and pale eyes burned into Ruby from inches away. “I do not conduct myself in such a manner.”

“Then what’s the big deal with me being a guy?” Ruby grinned right into that anger. Lord, those eyes really were lavender. Just like the poster he had on his wall way back when. So no airbrushing after all. “If it’s just work, I’ll beat any of them girls all hollow.” The accent slipped deeper into the hills and misty hollers of his home. Never was a hill man didn’t like a challenge. “You up for seeing if I’m as good as I say?”

A narrowed gaze considered him for a long moment. “All right, Mr. Keagan. You just put your work reputation on the line. You have until this storm blows over to convince me you’re worth keeping on. I believe they estimated two days. That’s tonight and tomorrow.”

Ruby let his brightest smile free. “Well, all right then.” He set the brandy back on the table. “Where’s the office and what all do you need done?”

*     *     *

Oh my God. What have I done? The heat of Ruby’s smile washed over Holland, its glory blinding him for an instant. From six inches away, the combination of that smile and those eyes ripped Holland’s cognitive functions away.

This! This was why he didn’t have male assistants. He’d not the least wish to become the sort of user this unbelievably appealing creature had just accused him of being. The women would never tempt him. But Ruby...dear lord. Pure temptation. Hol managed to pull back before he said or did something to show how very much he wanted to kiss that smiling mouth.

“Your office and quarters are downstairs.” There, that sounded reasonable and not half as shaky as his knees felt.

“Fair enough.” Ruby stood, the movement shifting the robe just enough to reveal a glimpse of smooth, well-muscled chest before the younger man tightened the belt again. “Hope you don’t mind if I keep this a little longer...and showing me where the dryer is, for my clothes?”

“There’s a laundry off the kitchen.” Even now, Ruby seemed far too close. “I’ll go down with the cart and get your luggage so you’ll have fresh clothes.” And he was not thinking of following the fine column of Ruby’s throat down and pressing his lips to the sweet hollow just above the creamy velvet opening of his robe.

Surprise lifted dark brows. Those decadent eyes studied him, too bright, too...everything. “That’s nice. Thank you.” Ruby held out his hand. “And thank you, Mr. Faust, for giving me a chance to prove myself. You won’t regret it.”

Pure electric shock ran up Holland’s arm the instant their hands touched. Ruby’s firm handshake matched his straightforward manner. And his upbringing. Holland knew a hill man didn’t offer his hand unless he meant it. His father had told him so many times. “I hope I don’t, Mr. Keagan.” He could hardly say he already did so. He moved to show his visitor out of the bedroom. And further from temptation.

The large open area of dining and sitting room felt too small in Ruby’s presence, even with the young man’s eyes going wide at it all. “Wow. This is beautiful.”

“I won’t apologize for agreeing with you. I chose this house and this island for its peace and beauty.” And the solitude. After a while the sheer difficulty of getting here led the paparazzi to easier targets. An occasional boat circled the island, but he usually saw them long before they had a chance to see him. “I hope you’ll find your suite lives up to the promise the rest of the house has given you.” He motioned Ruby toward the stairs to the lower level.

There really was something endearing about the way Ruby Keagan drank everything in without going utterly star-struck. No giggles, no stammers...no long stares at him. Holland might find it refreshing if he could breathe properly. The walk across the roomy living area downstairs seemed to take forever. At least his hands didn’t rattle the doorknobs to the guest suite. “Here you are. The office is just next door.”

Another of those grins sent warmth over Holland. “Cool.” The robe brushed Holland’s knuckles as Ruby entered the room. Electricity arced through Hol again. “Now, this is nice.” The smile turned from the room back to Hol. “I’m gonna like working here.”

I wish I could like it as well. Right now, Holland would settle for getting to the garage without embarrassing himself or pressing Ruby up against the glass doors to the private deck. “It looks like this squall line is passing.” If not, Hol had no doubt he could will it to do so just to get free of this excruciatingly embarrassing situation. “Why don’t you look about and see if there’s anything you need for tonight while I retrieve your luggage. It shouldn’t take but a moment.” Hol had helped bring some of his precious garden plants and trees up from the dock; surely he could manage a few suitcases.

“Sure. Thanks.” Ruby’s gaze settled over him again.

At least the younger man had some control over his reactions, a very good control. That alone would keep this to merely excruciating. Holland forced a wince away from his own muscles. Two days. No assistant could be that good. Mr. Ruby Keagan would find himself back on a charter boat just as soon as Holland could manage it.

*     *     *

Holland settled Ruby’s backpack over one shoulder and reached for the duffel strap. The jacket across the duffel brushed his hand, soft and supple. He lifted it and draped it across his arm, the mingled scent of the leather and Ruby’s cologne a heady, male aroma. He’d become intensely familiar with that delicious scent on the drive up the hill, the jacket on the seat beside him. 

Lord, Hol. You have to get hold of yourself. Ruby’s handsome and has a beautiful smile and he’s completely off limits. Just like every other man out there. Holland decided long ago it just wasn’t worth the heartache, the press exposure, and the scandal to give into his longings. He’d lived Hollywood for twenty years and never given in; he could keep it together for two days.

Besides, courtesy was one thing, admirable as the young man’s seemed to be. No man as beautiful as Ruby—even if Ruby happened to share Hol’s preferences—would want Holland in a romantic sense. Not after what happened.

“Here, let me help.” Ruby strode out of the guest room to the foot of the stairs as if he’d been there for years instead of less than an hour. Damp waves of dark brown hair broke over a fair brow. An equally dark brow popped up over that grin. “You just figured it was only fair you got wet, too?”

“I won’t melt in a bit of rain.” Holland found himself returning a smile before he thought and shifted so his face wouldn’t be as exposed. “Maine has hearty weather.”

“So I noticed.” Ruby grabbed the duffel and headed back toward the guest room. “The old guy driving the water taxi spent the whole trip telling me about every big blow for the last twenty years.” The duffel hit the bed and before Holland could blink a towel came flying from the guest bathroom. “Here you go.”

He caught it on reflex before it could hit his face, flinching more than he liked. Damn! Would that reaction ever go away? He fought to slow his breathing. “Thank you.” He drew the towel over his face, grateful for just those few moments of concealment, before he ruffled it through his hair. “I hope you found everything you need. We’ll have supper shortly. My housekeeper left a nice welcome meal for you.”

“Don’t need much but a clean bed and place to wash up, Ma always said. I’m good. And supper sounds great.” Ruby pulled a pair of jeans, boxers and a clean T-shirt out of the duffel. “Give me two minutes and you can have your robe back.” The bathroom door didn’t quite latch on the way by.

Hol drew a long breath, trying to find the calm and peace he normally enjoyed. He almost managed it when he caught a glimpse of the mirror over the dresser and stepped away with all haste. No, he just wasn’t up to facing that tonight. Not with everything else. His fingertips hovered over his face for a moment, unable to quite make contact. He knew the rough ridges were gone, but he didn’t want to feel even the small ones.

And he certainly didn’t want to see the rest. His hand dropped away and he concentrated on toweling his hair and putting it back into a semblance of order. His slicker had kept the rest of him relatively dry, so he wouldn’t have to change and leave the sanctuary of his bedroom to come down here again. He could get this all over in one session.

“There. That feels better.”

And looked spectacular. The thick robe didn’t cling and outline just how beautifully put together Ruby was. A T-shirt and jeans definitely suited him.

Hol maintained his control, though, eyes firmly above Ruby’s belt buckle. “Would you care for dinner? It’s laid out in the dining room. Thea made chowder. It’s not normal summer fare, but her chowder isn’t normal; she’s an exquisite cook.” He imagined there’d be generous salads, fresh bread, and cake or pie for dessert. More elegant menus would have to wait until she returned from visiting her newest grandchild. “I was very lucky to find a gourmet cook who wanted to live out here.” Very, very lucky. Extraordinarily so. And he’d no idea what he’d do when she and her rather taciturn husband retired. Replacing their loyalty and service might very well be impossible.

“That sounds great. And like I said, it may be summer to you, but this would be late October in New Orleans.” Ruby’s continuing good cheer belied any feelings of ill will about his arrival.

Hol gestured to the door and led the way upstairs to the dining room, careful to seat himself and his guest so his injuries wouldn’t spoil the food. Still... “If you’d prefer, I can dine in my suite. I really do want your stay here to be comfortable.” Even though it would be brief.

Ruby’s brows shot up again, that beautiful smile fading into confusion. “Why would I prefer that? If I’ve only got two days to prove you can’t live without me, shouldn’t I get an idea of exactly what it is I’m supposed to be doing?”

“Flawlessly logical, Mr. Keagan. I’ll give you that. And doubtless a member of your school’s debate team.” He lifted the cover from the chowder and served his guest. “As for your job. As you can imagine I receive numerous requests to use my foundation’s money for this or that cause. I make those decisions annually. My summer intern is responsible for researching the validity of the requests so I can decide how many of them I can actually help.”

That gaze stayed on him a bit longer than he’d anticipated. Then Ruby’s smile blossomed again. “Easy enough. I did a lot of validating in New Orleans. Wish we could have helped more, but a lot of lives got started back to normal.” The younger man helped himself to a roll from the quilted warming basket. “How big a stack are we talking about?”

“I don’t know. I don’t look at them until my assistant has vetted them.” Why should Hol bother sorting them before that?

“Of course.” Something danced in those chocolate eyes. “Well, by breakfast you’ll at least know that, unless the power goes out.”

“It won’t. We produce our own electricity. There are solar cells and a wave-action generator. The storm may affect the satellite internet reception, but only during the worst downpours.” Hol poured a fine white wine and set it before his guest. The final product of the remnants of the old studio system, he’d been taught to be perfectly pleasing and in control at the table, learning everything from the correct utensils to picking a decent wine. “You’ll find that enhances the taste of the seafood.”

“Thanks.” Ruby took a sip and set the glass down. “So, is there anything else you’d like to know about my skills or background, or are you just going on the assumption that I won’t be here long enough to bother?” That smile quirked again. “Sorry. Pa always said I speak before I think. Didn’t mean that to come out quite so rough.”

Rough perhaps, but amazingly musical. “And still logical. And yes, I’m afraid I really do expect you to fail, Mr. Keagan.” Hol settled back, careful to keep his face turned correctly so his right side wouldn’t be visible to Ruby. “Please, understand I don’t personally want you to, but my wishes were expressly and deliberately ignored. And that annoys me more than I can express. Jacquee hasn’t heard the last from me about that. But very well, I’m quite willing to get to know you. Who knows, after you leave perhaps we’ll become pen pals.” He relented at the raised eyebrows. “Sorry. That was much funnier in my head. And probably the reason I never wrote my own material.”

“Okay, look.” Ruby sat forward, leaning toward him, hands clasped on the polished maple table. “We’re stuck for two days whether I end up finishing the internship or not. Why don’t we stop dancing around the fact that you’re a big star and I’m a hill country kid and just talk? My folks always spoke highly of you, and I admire your charity work as much as I did your talent when you were working. It’s a place to start.”

“It is.” Hol found the honest open face made him want to do something he hadn’t in a long time – hold conversation with a stranger. “And I’m not a big star anymore. I haven’t made a movie in a very long time. I’m a curiosity. Just someone the tabloids would love to write a ‘where is he now’ article about. So you don’t need to worry that I have a star complex. I was cured of that at twelve. My...Pa wouldn’t put up with it.” He smiled into his wine glass, then met those dark eyes. “And yes, I did call him that. I was once a hill country kid, too. A very, very long time ago.” He chuckled. “I wasn’t allowed to speak for the first six months I was on camera. Not until the studio managed to remove my accent.”

“Then we have a lot more in common than I thought.” Ruby gestured over their simple meal. “Shall we?”

*     *     *

Holland relaxed in one of the big white leather chairs beside his bedroom windows, even the accent lamps extinguished now against the reflection on the glass, Rex settled on top of his feet and chewing some now-unrecognizable toy. The storm continued, illuminating the tossed and foaming sea in bright flashes. For a moment it reminded him a bit too much of camera bulbs, and he pushed the memory of siren wails and excruciating pain away. He focused instead on Ruby. Perhaps his poor joke about pen pals hadn’t been completely misplaced. Aside from Jacquee’s infrequent visits, Hol had no conversation with the outside world. The Hendersons were excellent employees, but Hol wasn’t sure he could call them friends. Shared interests remained restricted to the gardens for Abel and the kitchen for Thea.

Dinner conversation with Ruby had been...stimulating. Mentally. Holland enjoyed it far more than he’d expected he would, and far more than anything in a good number of years. He ignored the script lying open on his lap under a book light to remember the animation on Ruby’s face as he spoke, the sweet cadence of the young man’s accent showing more whenever he warmed to a subject. They shared so many similar thoughts on how best to help those who needed it most. So refreshing to not have to defend where and how Holland distributed his charitable funds. So lovely an evening.

And Ruby hadn’t been exaggerating his drive to prove himself in this job. Instead of taking the first evening to settle in and unpack, the young man was at this moment in the office downstairs skimming proposals. Faint strains of music drifted up through the furnace vents, Broadway musical numbers in one of the finest clear tenors Holland had ever heard since Gene Kelley.

You’re just too good to be true... 

Did Ruby hum along? Perhaps sing too softly for Hol to hear? Holland smiled. It appeared they shared taste in more than philanthropic viewpoints. He settled to watch the storm and enjoy the music. Maybe he’d be brash enough to ask the identity of the glorious tenor.

And perhaps he’d miss the extroverted young man just a bit. He laughed at his darkened reflection in the window, dark enough he couldn’t see clear details of his face. Yes, maybe they’d be pen pals. At least Ruby wouldn’t have to look at him that way. Even admirable control had its limits.

*     *     *

Ruby leaned back in the leather office chair for a minute, stretching his arms and enjoying the last incredible chorus of I Know Him So Well. Really, this newest album topped everything to date. And nothing stirred his soul quite like Broadway music. Or John Barrowman’s voice.

The considerable pile of foundation applicants had transformed into three manageable ones – those causes Ruby was already familiar with and would immediately put in a good word for, those he needed to research, and those who really weren’t the sorts of projects Holland liked to have part in. The research shouldn’t take long. Ruby knew how to work the Better Business Bureau site and all the other best sites to spot scammers. He’d have this ready for his would-be-ex-boss in no time.

That sent his attention back to Holland. Supper had been great. Once Holland unbent. So much passion for helping people who really wanted a way out, so sincere about it, it shone from those lavender eyes. Or rather eye. Hol had a right peculiar habit of keeping half his face turned away. A bit of a quandary, that. Especially since it vanished when Hol got all worked up. Lord, he glowed then.

And Ruby couldn’t help but let that glow spark a bit inside his own soul. His idol did have a heart of gold. All those things Ruby had heard and read, about how the actor truly cared about something besides his own image, were true. He grinned up at the ceiling, imagining a fifteen-year-old Holland declaring he wanted to give something back for all that had been given to him. Of course, likely studio speech writers came up with the words for him to say, but everyone swore and Holland confirmed that the idea of helping Appalachian families had been his. Visiting his old family place, seeing the way folks barely got by... It really did get to him.

Ruby’s grin grew. He didn’t remember that, of course. He’d been too little. But he remembered his Ma pointing to the Saturday morning TV and saying that was the man they worked for now, and how she hoped Ruby grew up to care about people like that young fellow did.

The files were ready to present in the morning. Time for some sleep. He headed back to his room via the bathroom joining the two spaces, bedroom and former bedroom, grinning at his reflection in the mirror as he passed. At least he wasn’t dripping wet...

Wait. How had he looked wet? And then in Holland’s robe? He had no idea. There wasn’t a mirror in Holland’s bathroom. He thought for a moment. Not a mirror at all until he stepped in here. Now what sort of actor lived in a house without mirrors?

Hell’s bells! Of course. One that had his face slashed up. Ruby hadn’t actually forgotten it. You didn’t forget a thing like that, but it wasn’t exactly at the front of his mind. Not when Holland looked so good. Ruby ran back to the office and the computer, hoping the storm wouldn’t take out the net link for at least a few more minutes. He tapped at the keys. Lord, Google was his friend. There it was – article after article on the attack. Screaming, lurid headlines. Crazed Fan Destroys Superstar’s Face. Star of “Beast” Knife Attack. Slasher Turns Beauty Into Beast.

Ruby winced at that last one. That was just an ugly thing to say. The photos were uglier. Looked like the damned paparazzi had a complete party. Aw man! Some sleaze even took pictures of Holland in the ambulance and sold them to the highest bidder. And that high bidder printed them, gaping wounds crisscrossing Holland’s face. Some of the articles spoke of defense wounds on his hands and arms.

“Aw, Hol.” Ruby closed the browser. He didn’t want to see any more. “Yeah, I don’t blame you for coming here. Not after that circus.” But why still no mirrors? Too much of a reminder? Or just habit. Maybe Ruby would get a chance to find out. If he could convince Holland to let him stay.


 

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Copyright © 2006 T.D.McKinney. All Rights Reserved.