Dare to Act
By: Leigh Ellwood | Other books by Leigh Ellwood
Published By: Ravenous Romance
Published: Aug 02, 2012
ISBN # 9781607775195
Published By: Ravenous Romance
Published: Aug 02, 2012
ISBN # 9781607775195
Word Count: 60,511
Available in: Epub, Mobipocket (.mobi), Adobe Acrobat
DescriptionWhen actor Parker Stigwood stuns the world by doing the unthinkable on live television, he's convinced his career is over. Disgusted by Hollywood hypocrisy, he pushes the pause button on his life and retreats to his parents' home in Dareville to contemplate his future. Little does he realize, various forces have plans for him on a personal and professional level.
Luke Hall is excited to direct his first play for the local arts center, more so when the handsome movie star volunteers to watch rehearsals and offer pointers. Luke would rather watch Parker, but there are interruptions to his viewing pleasure. When a well-meaning friend seeking benefits places doubts in Luke's head about Parker's intentions, Luke wonders if their relationship will bomb at the box office.
On and off-stage, Luke and Parker's passion sizzles. But will Parker dare to act on his feelings for Luke and leave his star behind for good?
Reader Rating: (1 Ratings)
Excerpt:DARE TO ACT
A Ravenous Romance™ Original Publication
Copyright © 2012 by Leigh Ellwood
100 Cummings Center
Beverly, MA 01915
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without written permission from the publisher, except by reviewers who may quote brief excerpts in connection with a review.
This book is a work of fiction, and any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.
Parker Stigwood uncrossed his legs, but corrected himself when he saw how his right foot bounced maniacally in plain view of the roaming cameramen. Tonight of all nights, he world didn’t need to see his nerves get the best of him. For nearly three hours he’d sat glued to his front row seat, watching an endless parade of empty platitudes, old tuxedos, and new breasts. In exactly two minutes, film legend Walt Stephenson—six-time nominee and last year’s winner—would stroll onstage to announce Parker’s category.
Parker desperately wanted to let a hovering teenager in a rented suit warm his seat while he dashed into a men’s room to vomit. Before he could rise, a low vibration hummed at his hip. Christ. Who the hell texted him now? Everybody in the world knew where he was, and whoever this was should have appreciated his need for discretion right now.
He glanced down his row to see some of the biggest names in the film industry clandestinely checking their own smart phones, their thumbs stabbing at tiny keyboards, presumably offering fans color commentary via Twitter. That amusing notion helped allay his jitters, and as he checked his own Android phone he wanted to laugh out loud.
Relax. You’re a shoo-in, read the text from his agent. Parker glanced over at Regina, sitting next to him, her own phone resting on her lap.
“You are such a stitch,” he teased in a low whisper, yet inside he couldn’t share Regina’s excitement. When Diamond had first released, critics predicted endless nominations and hardware for his mantel. Parker saw the movie as one more line in his filmography, yet as the awards piled up he wondered if he genuinely had a shot at the granddaddy of them all. He found that out one January morning at five AM, watching his flatscreen while wrapped in a blanket.
Would he actually win the little golden guy? He’d know in one minute, fifteen seconds. Fourteen, thirteen...
Regina, elegant with her cascading brown curls and ruby earrings the size of quarters, blew him a quick air kiss before turning her attention back to the presentation. Cues in the form of various cameramen and stage hands rushing for position signaled the end of the commercial break, and shortly the program’s announcer bellowed his introduction throughout the venue with a simple, “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome last year’s Best Actor, Walt Stephenson.”
The rugged actor, known for decades of work in now-classic westerns and knuckle-busting crime flicks before settling into a twilight career of tense political dramas, approached the microphone slowly, envelope in hand as he nodded away the thunderous applause. Parker hoped it would last forever—not so much to buy him time to settle the butterflies, but because the man genuinely deserved every accolade given him. Stephenson had been his hero growing up, his inspiration for pursuing an acting career. Somewhere in his parents’ attic in their Dareville, Virginia home, a tiny black hat, much like the one Stephenson had worn in The Marauders, rested in a dusty box.
Man, he sure wished he was there watching the show, feeling suffocated. Not that he considered their town of Dareville home—his parents had retired there from Washington, D.C.—but what L.A. lacked in serenity the small Virginia town offered in spades.
No place like home. Parker closed his eyes and summoned a memory of running around the waterfront park in his native Georgetown with his friends, waving plastic guns and shouting immortal film dialogue like mantras. He watched Rick, his eventual partner in drama until Parker’s move to California, morph into his adult self and take on Walt’s familiar, smoky voice.
Elation erupted all around him. Bodies rose and hands clapped to maximum decibels. Parker awoke from his daydream, confused by the noise. Regina’s hands roughly roused him from his seat.
“What?” he shouted to her.
“You won, you dingbat!” Regina’s eyes glassed over, and her smile radiated her joy. “Get up there, now!”
Won? No shit. He’d heard his name, yes, but thought Walt was still listing the nominees. As he stood, his gaze drifted toward the stage where his image flashed on the large screens flanking the legendary actor. Stunned, he could barely process the here-and-now. He’d just been awarded the highest accolade a film actor could receive, and here he stood before God, California, and the free world: a dumbstruck fool.
In less than a minute, he knew, everybody would think that of him and much, much worse.
Parker didn’t feel his legs move toward the stage, nor did the touch of hands slapping his back and shoulders in congratulation affect him. The cheers and applause numbed in his ears, and the brassy Diamond score, which he’d heard most of the night as winner after winner passed him en route to the stage to collect their awards, faded to an annoying ringing sound in his brain.
He stood next to Walt Stephenson—once his idol, now his contemporary—and wanted desperately to take the man’s hand and thank him for his inspiration. Walt, however, had the trophy in hand and tried to give it to Parker, who merely held up a pausing gesture.
“Do you mind?” he asked Walt.
The older man, looking more aged than he’d ever appeared in his movies, shook his head and frowned slightly. “Not at all,” he said, sounding careful, and stepped back with the trophy to give Parker berth to speak.
“Thank you, so much,” Parker spoke into the slim microphone before him. The crowd murmured into silence. He hoped they’d maintain that calm after he said his piece. Knowing how people in Hollywood leaned in their politics and morals, he’d consider a stone quiet reception a gift.
He kept his hands fisted together, resisting the urge to take the award from Walt’s hands and shoot it skyward in a victory pump, and bent toward the microphone. “I look out at all of you now, and this is so surreal. I grew up watching so many of your movies, and all of his,” he crooked his neck toward Walt and earned a low, collective chuckle, “and never in a million years did I think I’d up be on this stage tonight, honored as one of you.”
The applause crested again, and Parker pushed it back with a wide gesture. “Please,” he said. Don’t make this any harder. “However, all through this evening, I’ve sat close to this stage, and watched many of you come up here to defend a man based solely on his body of work, rather than the strength of his moral character...”
That shut everything down. Parker swore he heard crickets, but surely it was only minor mic feedback. He chanced a glance to his left—Walt looked on expectantly, as though anticipating Parker’s next words.
“When I see such a display of disregard for justice, and what I perceive as acceptance of despicable acts, I have to ask myself: should I stand here? Should I plaster a smile on my face and accept this award when one might interpret it as my accepting clemency for a man who should be in jail?”
The booing started.
The stage lights kept Parker from seeing beyond the first ten or so rows on the floor, which meant the balcony had decided to chime their disapproval. On either side of him, large television cameras rolled closer to record the obvious suicide of his Hollywood career.
He found Regina in her seat, unsmiling and looking away and flexing her fingers, like she wanted to punch somebody.
He straightened and swallowed, willing back the anxiety. “It is with regret that I cannot accept this honor which you have chosen to bestow on me,” he said, trying to keep the words from rushing forward. His voice cracked and his heart pounded in his ears, drowning out the discomfort of the audience. He might have said “I’m sorry,” in addition to that. He couldn’t be certain—his voice didn’t register.
The most important and powerful people in his industry shifted in their seats, no doubt aggravated and formulating their own opinions of Parker, but once he made the pronouncement he felt much lighter, relieved. The glamour of the night had faded for him, and he just wanted to make an uneventful yet graceful exit.
“Goodnight.” With that, he turned on his heel and speed-walked stage left, as he’d been instructed during orientation for the awards ceremony, with rising catcalls and whistles fast behind him.
No such luck avoiding the press. Normally, a winner would be escorted to an anteroom where reporters and cameramen stood to volley softball questions. Were you nervous? Would you work with so and so again? Who designed your outfit? Parker imagined his short speech turning Tinseltown gossips from the usual sparkle-dusted sleaze to finally write that hard-hitting expose on the actor fallen from grace.
“Parker! Mr. Stigwood!” Voices repeated his name over and again. Rather than head for the anteroom—the only way out that Parker knew of besides the seating floor—he dived into the nearest men’s room. With the tight security posted around the stage and other points of the auditorium, he hoped the hired guards might keep the media at bay.
Once inside, he headed for the nearest urinal and, gripping the edges, threw up. Luckily nerves had prevented him from eating too much before the ceremony, and he’d refrained from helping himself at the open pre-awards bar because he wanted to approach the evening with a clear head. Of course, when he’d first walked into the auditorium with Regina on his arm he hadn’t planned to turn down the trophy if he won. This move had been born of spontaneity, of rising disgust with his peers whose hearts bled for a fugitive from justice, now caught.
Parker wondered how many people now considered him lower than the film director whom everyone knew had raped an underage girl, yet served no time for his criminal act.
Regina. Shit. As though her Spidey sense had latched onto his thoughts, the Android at his hip shook. His heart sank, anticipating scores of threatening texts. But his inbox contained only Regina’s curt missive sent in the last few seconds.
Get a cab, and another agent. No sense replying. Parker knew with Regina’s resignation that he had signed the death warrant for his career. He slumped against the cool tile of the wall supporting the urinals and played around some with his smart phone. Calling up his Twitter application, he searched for commentary on the awards and scrolled through a thousand instant virtual jaw-drops. For the most part, the reactions ranged from two-word gasps (Shit, Parker!) to a few comedic observances (I can hear Parker flushing his career all the way from Maine.) Interestingly enough, the general reception of online outbursts seemed to tilt public opinion in his favor. He might just survive this blunder after all.
Was it a bad career move, though, to stand up for your convictions? Sure, Jerry Maguire found his redemption eventually, but that was just a movie, and now Parker had to wonder if he’d be asked to make any more.
He startled when the swinging door to the men’s room blasted open, then relaxed to see only one man push past and approach him. Walt Stephenson, wearing a sloppy grin to match his now mussed tuxedo jacket and shirt, had Parker’s award tight in his whitening grip. “You forgot this,” he said.
Parker couldn’t bring himself to touch it, much less look at the man delivering it. Walt Stephenson—his hero—had followed him to the men’s room. How many starry-eyed adolescent cowboys could claim that? What must this man think of him now? Despite his disdain for the industry and his now-certain pariah status within it, part of him still cared.
“I declined the honor,” Parker said on an exhausted exhale. “It’s not mine.”
Walt shook his head, setting the award on the wide lip of a nearby sink. The round base of the trophy teetered precariously on the porcelain for a few seconds before stilling. Parker hadn’t realized he held his breath the whole time.
“It’s yours regardless of whether or not you want it,” Walt told him. “The way the Academy works, they don’t make mistakes in handing out these things. It’s not like you’re the first person to decline one, either. You look in the all entertainment books, the winner is still listed as thus. You will be, too.”
Parker smirked. “Do I get an asterisk by my name like Mark McGwire?”
“Cute. Really, though, if you don’t take it, it’s going to be locked up in an airless vault until doomsday.” Walt retrieved a handkerchief from his pocket and blotted the sweat on his forehead. All of the sudden the air around them warmed. Perhaps the Academy had goaded the building’s physical plant to steam them out. “They’re not going to present it to the runner up,” Walt added.
Parker shook his head. “I don’t want it,” he said, believing it true this time. “I know it’s not the Academy’s place to endorse or discourage political statements that go on at these events, but I just couldn’t...” He bit his lip. The tears threatened to bead and spill, and God help him if he ended up bawling like a child in front of the man who literally personified macho for upwards of three decades.
So it came as some surprise, when he lowered his head into his hands, that a gentle warmth spread from one shoulder to the other. Walt had come to sit next to him, alongside a row of urinals—one of Hollywood’s greatest living actors! An avant garde photographer seeking a prized spread in a major magazine might have gasped with glee at the scene, thinking it a gift from God.
“It’s just one moment in time. People will forget as soon as some blonde pop-tart comes spilling out of her limo half drunk and fully naked,” Walt told him. “You’ll move past this.”
“My agent just dumped me over the phone,” Parker wailed, waving the device. It beeped and he checked the screen. “Apparently, so has my personal assistant.”
“Hire new ones, or work on your own. I’ve outlived three agents and you don’t see me bellyaching.”
Parker snorted. Now this sounded like the tough guy Walt Stephenson he’d worshiped from the front row of his favorite movie house back home. Still, he didn’t share the star’s confidence. “I’ve followed your career for years,” he said, “I don’t recall you ever doing something this stupid to your career.”
Walt stood, towering over Parker as he extended a hand downward to lift him from his self-created gutter. “You want to know how I know you’re wrong?” he asked.
Parker wanted to know, of course, but instead of answering he silently accepted the hand and braced his body against the wall to rise. Bones creaked and the coolness of the tile pressed through his tuxedo jacket to chill his spine.
“For one, what you did wasn’t stupid,” Walt said. “You stood up for your convictions, which few people around here do. Even Brando didn’t have the balls to come here and turn down his award.”
Parker smiled weakly. He did have that in his corner. Lord only knew what Brando might have said about it.
Walt draped an arm around Parker’s shoulder and guided him toward the exit, grabbing the award as they went. “For two,” he continued, “if you’ve really followed my career like you said, you’d have remembered how I about flushed it down the crapper when I left my wife for Shirley Padgett.”
“You’re right.” Parker let out a small laugh. Then again, so many men had jettisoned their sweethearts for the legendary screen vixen over the years that Parker likely confused some other A-list cowboy with Walt. “The public forgave you for that, though,” Parker said, his memory returning. Walt’s former wife, also an actor, had later admitted to cheating first, and Parker voiced as much.
Walt nodded. “Well, that brings us to number three...” He steered Parker down a hallway he didn’t recognize, and realized the man knew a way out that might circumvent the paparazzi. “I never said I was sorry. I used to think letting your guard down and apologizing for dumb things made you look like less of a man. Now that I’m past my prime for tough guy movies, I can’t cross over as a sensitive leading man because producers can’t see me in those roles.”
“Walt,” Parker began, and almost laughed. Did he really just call the man by his first name and live? “Mr. Stephenson,” he corrected, and looked up to see the actor pale with disapproval. “Er, I don’t believe anybody would pass over you for a movie.”
“It happens. I’d have given my left nut to play Voldemort or Gandalf, but that didn’t happen. I need to broaden my range.” He chuckled, then told Parker to wait a second as he reached for his mobile phone. “Where are you headed? I’m guessing you aren’t interested in any of the after-show parties.”
Parker shook his head. “I didn’t get a room,” he said, though Regina had advised him to for crashing after a night of famous late-night fetes. “I figured I’d get a cab back to Montecito.”
Walt raised an eyebrow. “You took a limo all the way from there?”
Parker’s face heated with embarrassment. He didn’t want to reveal that he’d stayed with Regina prior to the awards, and luckily Walt noticed his boyish discomfort. “Say no more,” he said, then spoke into the phone to request his car. “How about a victory drink at my suite?” he suggested to Parker after pocketing the gadget. “You look like you could use one.”
Any other night, Parker might have floated on air for the opportunity to socialize with Walt Stephenson, and while a drink sounded fine to him the notion of celebrating his doom made him shiver.
“I should be thankful for my health, is that what you’re going to tell me?” He offered Walt a wry smile.
“That, and we should toast your movie.” Walt tapped the jacket pocket that held his phone. “Just got a text that it won Best Picture.”
“Really?” The news seemed anti-climactic, and as the two men walked toward an unattended exit Parker wondered if anybody bothered to invoke his name in the acceptance speech.