Hollywood Dirt Page 1

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CHAPTER 1

Hollywood doesn’t mix well with dirt roads. They don’t understand how we work. Don’t understand the intricate system of rules that we live by. They think that because we talk slowly, we are stupid. They think that the word ‘y’all’ is an indication of poor grammar. They think their Mercedes makes them a better person, when—to us—it’s just an indication of low self-esteem.

The cavalry arrived on a Sunday afternoon in August. Semis followed by limos, work trucks and buses trailed by matching sedans. Catering trucks—as if we didn’t have restaurants in Quincy. Some more semis. The scent of our camellias competed with their exhaust, the huff of diesel bringing with it the scent of pretension and importance. Brakes squealed and everyone in the tri-county area heard it. Even the pecan trees straightened in interest.

A Sunday. Only Yankees would think that was an appropriate time to thrust themselves into our lives. Sunday, the Lord’s Day. A day spent in the pews at church. Under live oaks eating brunch with our friends and families. Napping through the afternoon hours, front-porch visiting time at dusk. Evening was for quality time with your family. Sunday wasn’t a day for upheaval. Sunday wasn’t a day for work.

We were at the First Baptist Church when the word hit. A whispered stream of excitement down the long line of the table, scooting by and hopping over cornbread, dumplings, pecan pie, and broccoli casserole. Kelli Beth Barry was the one who passed the news to me, her red hair coming dangerously close to some marshmallowy sweet potato during the relay. “They’re here,” she said ominously, the excited glow in her blue eyes not matching the dark tones of her message.

I didn’t have to ask who ‘they’ were. Quincy had been waiting for this day for seven months. Ever since the first hint reached Caroline Settles, assistant to Mayor Frazier, who received a phone call on a Monday morning from Envision Entertainment. She had transferred the call to the mayor’s office, picked up her box of Red Hots, and settled into the chair outside of his door. Chewed her way through half the box before scooting to her feet and back to her desk, her round butt hitting the seat just in time for the mayor to walk out, his chest puffed, spectacles on, a notepad in hand that she knew good and well only contained doodles.

“Caroline,” the man drawled with some level of importance, “I just got a call from some folks in California. They want to film a movie in Quincy. Now we’re just in preliminary talks but—” he looked over his spectacles with a degree of sternness and dramatics, “this needs to stay within the walls of this office.”

It was a laughable statement, Mayor Frazier knowing what would happen the minute he turned back to his office. In small towns, there are two types of secrets: the kind that we pull together as a mini-nation to protect, and the juicy. The juicy things don’t stay quiet. They aren’t meant to. They are a small town’s sole source of entertainment, the morsels of fat that keep us all healthy. Those secrets are our currency and little is as valuable as a first person, no-one-else-knows-this testimony. Within five minutes, Caroline called her sister from the mayor’s personal bathroom, settled in on a padded toilet seat where she breathlessly recounted every word she’d heard through the closed door:

“They said ‘plantation’—like Gone with the Wind…”

“I heard the name Claudia Van. Do you think the Claudia Van is coming to Quincy?”

“He mentioned August, but I don’t know if that’s this August or next.”

The gossip circle had just enough information to run wild, and speculation and false assumptions spread like the lice epidemic of ’92. Everyone thought they knew something, and every day a new piece of information was offered up like manna to our starving social lives.

I got lucky. I nabbed a front row seat to the action and became Interesting to a town that had firmly blacklisted my name three years earlier. Interesting was the first step toward Valued, something that Mama and I hadn’t been able to accomplish in our twenty-four years in Quincy. It wasn’t a status I particularly cared about, but it was something I was intelligent enough not to turn up my nose at.

The movie was the most exciting thing that had ever happened, and the town counted down to the arrival with breathless anticipation.

Hollywood. Glamour. Studios. Celebrities, the most important of whom was Cole Masten.

Cole Masten. The man women think about in the dark of night. When their husbands are snoring, or—in my case—when mothers are sleeping. Quite possibly the most beautiful man to grace Hollywood in the last decade. Tall and strong, with a build that looks perfect in a suit but reveals the muscles of his body when he strips down. Dark brown hair, enough of it to dig your hands in and grab, but short enough to look polished. Green eyes that own you the minute he smiles. A smile that causes you to forget the words out of his mouth because it draws your body into such a state of hopeless need that thought becomes irrelevant. Cole Masten was the epitome of walking sex and had every woman in town drooling over his arrival.

Every woman but me, that is. I couldn’t be. For one, he was an ass. All cocky attitude and no manners to speak of. For two, he was—for the next four months—my boss. Everyone’s boss. Cole Masten wasn’t just the star of this movie. He was sinking his own money into the production, bankrolling the entire operation. It was Cole who read the little Southern novel that no one had ever heard of. The novel about our town, the novel that exposed the plantation homes and work trucks for what they were: camouflage. The camouflage of secret billionaires.

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