“Have you ever worked as a personal assistant to someone who is very successful in the entertainment industry?”
“Not in entertainment. No, ma’am.” Or anywhere else, but I’m all right with not telling her the whole answer.
Wait a minute. What kind of entertainment? If the woman in front of Olivia--who looked like she could be typecast as a starchy old schoolteacher in a movie--wasn’t telling her, maybe it wasn’t a film star looking for her services. The ad had hinted at someone very important who needed a personal assistant, and this was LA after all. Why not apply and hope for someone famous?
“This employer will pay well. But he has some unusual requirements.”
A porn star. Dear God. A kinky porn star. A he. A male kinky porn star.
“Like...what?” That wasn’t subtle, but Olivia really needed to know. She wanted the job, but some things she wouldn’t know how to do. Maybe she could learn. Yeah, she was that desperate. Unfortunately, probably a kinky film star didn’t need an amateur.
Oh God. Unless that was one of his kinks.
Olivia took a deep breath. She had not spent six hours this morning psyching herself up to interview only to psych herself out of it without knowing what was up. An overactive imagination could be a deadly thing.
So was being stuck in a rut. She’d promised herself--made a solemn oath--not to stay a nanny for another six months. Not another six days. Nope. In six months she was going to be on her way to living out her dream. This
year. No more excuses. No matter how hard it was. Applying for this ad was the start to her being brave.
“Long hours. Travel. Certain food preferences. Making sure he has the food he needs is nonnegotiable. You would be required to do everything from handling bills to making sure hotels stock your employer’s favorite shampoo.”
That was doable. A little childish, but doable.
“I’ve worked long hours before. And I minored in accounting in college. I can manage the bills.” I didn’t graduate, but if she checks my résumé, she’ll know I passed those accounting classes.
“You-- Well, frankly it doesn’t matter what the requirements are. The biggest one is that he likes you. If he doesn’t...” She stood, still staring at Olivia as if she was measuring her for a fitting. Olivia avoided staring back like a scared deer. Instead she looked down at the woman’s six-inch stilettos and thought about how those spiky heels didn’t fit the rest of the schoolmarm costume. This interviewer might move from kind of scary to absolutely terrifying once you really got to know her. Even more frightening than her elementary school teacher had been when she was six.
The woman nodded as if she’d made up her mind. “Come with me, and we’ll see how you two click.”
She wasn’t going to have to dress as a slutty schoolgirl, right? Shampoo and food she could do. Bondage to the stars was out of her league. Olivia swallowed hard and followed the schoolteacher--who maybe was actually a dominatrix hired for disciplining people who wanted to play the bad student--out the door.
* * * *
“Should you be drinking that?” Jamal looked concerned.
And one more person asking that. Kenny couldn’t help baring his teeth to snarl.
“I’m sick of that question. Along with the question about whether I should be eating what I’m eating.” He paused at the now wary look on his manager’s face. He was sick of those looks too. Fine. He wasn’t an unreasonable asshole and knew people were worried. They had every right to be. “It’s an effing diet soda. All right?”
The office door opened before Jamal could answer.
“Yes, ma’am?” When Aunt Teresa took that tone, Kenny called her ma’am. Everyone
called her ma’am when she was like that.
“I have a candidate here to meet you.”
“Christ. More of them? This is a waste of...” He realized someone was behind Aunt Teresa and snapped down on finishing the rest of the sentence.
“This is Miss Olivia Washington.”
“This is the candidate?” Jamal echoed the words in Kenny’s head. Fortunately Jamal spoke softly enough that only Kenny heard him. But he sounded as stunned as Kenny’s inner voice. “The one who is gonna keep our Kenny on the straight and narrow? A little thing like--hmm
. Smart choice. Bet I’d do whatever she wanted me too.”
Kenny stopped staring at Miss Olivia Washington when he realized Jamal had straightened and smiled at her. Kenny glared at Jamal instead of continuing to gape at the beauty before him. “Shut up, Ellis.”
As usual, Jamal ignored him in favor of a pretty woman. The dog
. Kenny felt the familiar twinge of affection and irritation he got around his business associate and best buddy.
.” Jamal leaned forward.
candidate.” Kenny growled.
Olivia wasn’t like the burly hulks--of both genders--that Aunt Teresa had dragged in before. Not at all.
She was tiny, both in height and bone structure. That must be her Asian ancestry. He could tell there had to be some Asian and some...well, maybe a couple of other heritages mixed together to create something unique. Nice. He approved of the result. Not that he’d say that out loud, but hell, he could think it, right? He loved petite women.
Dear God. How did Aunt Teresa know one of his very private fetishes? Then again, she knew everything.
Olivia took a hesitant step toward him. She came to the shoulder of any normal-sized guy and was completely dwarfed next to Kenny. He knew this because he’d risen to his feet to shake hands when she got closer, as if he was compelled.
He couldn’t remember the last time he’d stood to do that with a woman. Possibly it had been Aunt Teresa when he was a kid, and she promised him a cookie for displaying good manners.
Damn. No wonder he had problems with people telling him what to eat.
“Miss Washington. It’s a pleasure.” He gentled his voice and clasped her hand, almost afraid he might break it.
Her grip was amazingly firm as she shook his, but her voice was firmer when she said, “Mr. Lockett. The pleasure is mine. I didn’t realize I was interviewing to work for you.”
He couldn’t tell if she was pleased or not with the idea. She didn’t seem excited to realize who he was--but at least she knew. He must not be a has-been yet.
Shit. When had he started worrying about that? The list of his insecurities was growing every year.
“Jamal Ellis. I’m Kenny’s manager.” Jamal kept going as if no one had interrupted. “I made him what he is today. Well, the famous part. The other stuff I have no control over.”
“Did my aunt tell you what you’re supposed to do with me?” Kenny asked. God knew what Aunt Teresa had said.
God knew what he might suggest if Olivia stuck around long enough.
“Somewhat. I understand what a personal assistant usually does. From what I know of you, I can see she wasn’t exaggerating when she said travel would be involved. You seem to always be on tour. I’d be happy to make sure you don’t have to handle any details other than your music while you travel.” She hesitated. “Is there anything else you expect?”
“I don’t expect a damn thing.” Kenny ignored the snort Jamal gave. Damn it, he was not the spoiled diva everyone liked to pretend he was. He added, “But other people expect you to be my babysitter.”
“Oh.” Olivia Washington blinked. He almost thought she smiled, but then he wasn’t so sure. It had happened even faster than the blink, and she was serious again. “Then other people made an excellent choice. I’m a very good babysitter.”
He liked that soft, precise tone. He could tell Miss Olivia Washington liked to get things right.
And he liked to throw people off. It could be fun to see if he’d be able to ruffle that calm.
His aunt spoke. “So you’ll take the job?”
Kenny was pretty sure he was the only one who saw Aunt Teresa was relieved under her brisk manner. Why was she relieved this small, gorgeous girl might be willing to take the job his aunt had originally wanted only human bulldogs to handle?
And why, after fighting the whole concept of having a personal assistant, was he afraid Olivia was hesitating too long over her answer? Didn’t everyone know the trouble he could get her...him...both of them...into? He wasn’t a diva, but sometimes he couldn’t help himself.
Her teeth caught her lower lip while she thought. Mmm. Nice bite on her.
Then she looked directly at him. He straightened, much as Jamal had at first sight. Over here! Yeah. Look at me.
Her gaze made the nerves under Kenny’s skin twitch, just a little. It’d been a long time since he felt that buzz. The last time might have been with...no. He wasn’t going to think about him.
“Miss Washington? Do you need me to outline the job more particularly?” Aunt Teresa sounded faintly annoyed, which probably meant she was trying to gloss over the details without Olivia knowing what she was getting in to. No one would want to take him on if they knew what they had to do. Honest to God, he worked at not being a spoiled star or just an ordinary pain in the ass but--
Her not knowing could work to his advantage. Maybe. If he wanted her to take the job.
She kept looking at him for another moment before she turned her head back to her questioner.
Her profile was almost as dainty and gorgeous as the full view. God, what a beautiful young thing. A man could eat her up for dessert.
Wait a minute. Think with the big head
. Why was Aunt Teresa giving him this tasty little morsel? His relative was an expert at getting her way. So why Olivia? Because she’s a tasty little morsel who is going to be by you night and day, track your every move, and tattle if you don’t follow the program
. He could tell she’d do it too, if that was her job. Miss Olivia looked like she was a by-the-book woman. Did his aunt really think he was going to allow this baby to do whatever she wanted with him because she was cute?
By me night and day.
It wasn’t like he wasn’t going to follow the program. He wasn’t sure why everyone was convinced he couldn’t follow rules. He wasn’t a kid that didn’t do things that were good for him just because. He could afford to have her around. That wasn’t the issue. But truthfully, he didn’t need someone with her job description.
Night and day. Hmmm.
He let out a breath. He and Jamal weren’t all that different. And at the thought of having her around, the dog in him definitely howled.
Win-win, Kenny. Either yes or no could make this my lucky day.
OLIVIA WONDERED IF her palms were sweating.
Oh shit. Oh shit. I’ve won the lottery.
She glanced over at Kenneth Lockett again. This was better than a movie star. Ken Freaking Lockett! He didn’t look quite as big as he did onstage--in fact, if anything, he looked a little too thin and drawn for his height. Scruffy too. And older than she imagined him. Maybe makeup for the cameras made him look younger nowadays. But, thin or old or whatever, it was definitely him. The singer who sold out concerts everywhere. He’d won an Academy Award twice for songs he’d written, and she’d lost track of the number of Grammys.
He looked back at her with his famous piercing blue eyes, and she sucked in a breath when he broke into a wide smile. He still had the magic. She got the same butterflies she’d had when she was a teenager and heard him on TV. She’d never been able to afford a concert ticket to one of his shows no matter how much she’d wanted one.
Oh my God. Now she’d be backstage when he performed.
“We didn’t talk about compensation,” Olivia managed to say. She had to sound professional and not like a groupie.
How much do I have to pay to get this job?
She glanced over at Jamal Ellis. He was legendary too, to anyone who knew anything about the business. He’d made singers. No one he’d worked with was as big as Ken, but who else could be as big as Ken Lockett? Jamal Ellis was as imposing as the man he managed and looked twice as distinguished.
She’d get to know them. She’d hang out with people she’d read about and envied. It wasn’t their fame or the money she’d craved, though. Not really.
The schoolteacher-dominatrix lookalike was telling her about contracts and job performance, and Olivia couldn’t hear a word. The pulse in her head and heart was beating too loudly. This was her big opportunity. She couldn’t have asked for anything better if she went to the “What I Need Most” store and picked it out.
Olivia knew she could sing. She’d wanted to perform all her life but been too scared to try. Not after the first four or five horrible auditions here in LA. Everyone had praised her singing back home, but that had been in the church choir. Not onstage. She didn’t know anything about how to stand or dress or-- She didn’t even know what she didn’t know.
Now she’d been handed a shot at learning everything, getting everything. All because she took a chance and answered an ad, hoping that it could lead to better things than taking care of sulky preadolescents with rich, absentee parents. That had been all anyone had decided she was qualified to do until today.
Better things? Oh my God. This year I’m finally going to become an honest-to-God professional singer. People are going to know me
. Olivia had promised herself that, but she hadn’t believed her crazy New Year’s resolution would happen until now.
My dream could actually be reality. Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit
. She finally had a shot at...
All I have to do is say yes. Please don’t let my mouth dry up before I get the words out.
She said, “I’ll accept. Of course I want to look over the contract first.”
If it hadn’t blown her image, she would have done a fist pump at the calm thoughtfulness she projected. She sounded like Mama when she had to deliberate. Mama was a deacon at the church and a heck of a deliberator. Yeah! Who said Olivia couldn’t perform?
If she didn’t go crazy from having to be demure outside while talking smack to herself inside, she could pull this off. No big deal. It wasn’t like prim Olivia wasn’t a part of her. It was just that sometimes the inner sassy Olivia needed a say too. But not now.
Her interviewer smiled as if it was a done deal. Was she in? Weird. Apparently Ken--Mr. Lockett--didn’t have a say-so in who was hired.
So what? As long as she was hired, why should she care who called the shots? The woman held out her hand to shake hers.
“I’ll get the contract for you in my office. Hiring for this position has been a long, selective process. Congratulations on making the cut. You sound right for the job.”
She thought she heard someone snicker, and, just the way she sometimes ignored a two-year-old who wanted attention, she focused on the person who had--oh my God--hired her.
“Thank you. I’ll do my very best.”
“Excellent, Miss Washington. Follow me while I get the paperwork.” When everyone stood, Olivia knew the interview was over. And she’d won. She almost ran for the hall after her interviewer.
Everything was going perfectly. She couldn’t believe her luck.