“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
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
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
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.
“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
“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
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
* * *
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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
“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
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
“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
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
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
* * *
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
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
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
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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
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.