Lizbet Blythe leaned forward in her chair on the pool deck at Sunny Autumn Seniors Community in Port Aidin, Florida. “Should I be worried?” she asked her friend, Hannah Sprite, who was floating on top of the crystal water.
Hannah was mother, grandmother, and aunt extraordinaire, while Lizbet, on a good day, could charitably be called the middle of the pack.
“Are you worried?” Hannah asked, lifting her sunglasses to squint at Lizbet.
“I’m not worried,” Lizbet answered. “But I’m worried that I’m not worried. Would a good grandmother be worried?”
“We did wait until MacKenzie’s twenty-first birthday,” Daisy Vashon said.
Daisy was famously kindhearted, and Lizbet trusted her judgement where it came to the kids.
Sam Finnegan, former NASA genius and the inventor of the group’s computer matchmaking program, tapped on the tablet in his lap. “Hammond is thirty-one,” he said.
“But he’s a very good man,” Daisy told them staunchly. “He’s been his father’s right hand in the company for years now.”
“That’s not such a big gap,” JW Sterling said. “Back in my day, men usually married younger women. It seemed to work out fine.”
Lizbet couldn’t help but snicker. “Your day was all of our days, JW.”
“My point remains,” he said gruffly.
A former Green Beret and army general, JW didn’t have a perceptible sense of humor.
Hannah climbed out of the pool, wrapping herself in a short, white cover-up.
“So, we’re agreed?” Lizbet asked, glancing around at the group. “We think she can hold her own?”
“Hammond is going to adore her,” Daisy said, moving behind Sam to view the screen. “He’ll take very good care of her.”
“I don’t think that’s how it works these days,” Hannah said. “Women pretty much take care of themselves. It sounds like she’s got a good job.”
“She’s a line producer in Hollywood.”
“What exactly is a line producer?” Daisy asked.
“I have no idea,” Lizbet said, assuming the question was directed to her. “Jade and Jillian filled in most of MacKenzie’s information.”
“We could ask them.” Sam suggested.
JW harrumphed his disagreement. “That would be a great way to leak the plan.”
“They’d be excited we were matching MacKenzie,” Lizbet said.
Her other two granddaughters, MacKenzie’s cousins, had already found their own true loves through Sam’s matchmaking program.
“I agree with JW,” Hannah said. “They might accidentally give it away. And Hammond’s already got his guard up.”
“It’s been six months since we showed him the matchmaking program,” Hannah said.
Sam shared a grin with JW. “I seriously doubt he’s forgotten about us.”
Due to a typo, the group had tried valiantly to match Hammond up with the woman who was meant for his brother Hunter. The mistake had first made them question the program’s accuracy. But when Hunter annihilated every obstacle they put in his way to win Kalie Gray for himself, they all realized the program was infallible.
“Hammond is on his guard,” JW said.
“Oh, you men,” Daisy said, giving Sam a playful rap on the shoulder. “You fight the inevitable, but then you’re happy as kids in a candy store when you finally give in.”
“Hunter is sure happy,” Lizbet said.
She couldn’t help but think that if Hammond ended up loving MacKenzie half as much as Hunter obviously loved Kalie, her granddaughter would be living a fairy tale.
“Hammond is very wealthy,” Hannah said.
“But he does seem to be a workaholic,” Sam said.
“Maybe she cures him of that,” Daisy said. “Maybe that’s the point of the match.”
JW rose to join the group. “What the heck is a line producer?” Then he looked at Hannah. His brow went up and his mouth curved into a rare smile. “Amelia,” he said, referring to their very first matchup.
Amelia was an actress in Los Angeles.
Hannah grinned right back at him. “We’ll call my great-niece and ask. It’s perfect. She can’t accidentally tell MacKenzie about the matchmaking program. She doesn’t even know her.”
The next day, Lizbet watched JW pace across the pool deck, turning at the umbrella-covered dining table to march back again.
“So, we’re all clear,” he said in an officious tone, as if he was addressing the troops. “We have Hammond Vashon, the vice president of a corporate real estate management company, in Boston and MacKenzie Bowen, a television line producer, in Hollywood California.”
Sam compressed his lips. “That’s twenty-five hundred miles apart.”
“California is a nice vacation spot,” Hannah said. “Could we arrange for Hammond to win a trip to Hollywood?”
“Hammond hasn’t taken a vacation in five years,” Daisy said.
“I don’t see any way for them to work together,” Lizbet said.
Learning that a line producer managed the day-to-day activities on a film set hadn’t helped them at one bit.
JW came to a halt. “Vacations don’t give enough time for a romance to develop.”
“Might Hammond check out real estate opportunities in LA?” Sam asked.
“That’s not bad,” JW said with a nod.
“What if we bring her to him instead?” Daisy asked. “She once worked on location in Louisiana. She was there for two months, filming a series pilot called The Ruby Blue.”
“What a strange title,” Hannah said. “What was it about?”
“I have no idea,” Daisy said.
Lizbet came to her feet. “That’s a great idea. Two months would be perfect. All we need is to find a series pilot that’s filming in Boston.”
JW stared at her in obvious astonishment. “Is that all we need? How would we get MacKenzie the job? How would we get Hammond to the film set?”
“Calm down, JW,” Daisy said. “There are no bad ideas.”
“Yes, there are,” JW said.
Sam interjected evenly. “It could work if it was our pilot.”
Everyone looked at him.
“Unlike some of you, I read all the way through that beginners’ filmmaking guide Amelia sent us. There’s someone called an executive producer who finances the project. He controls the project and can decide where it’s filmed and who is hired.” He glanced around the circle. “The executive producer can be multiple people, or even a corporation. It could be us. All we’d need was a company name, money, and a script.”
“I don’t understand,” Hannah said.
“We can specify that MacKenzie is hired for the project,” said Sam.
“Oh, my,” Lizbet said, dropping into the nearest deck chair as Sam’s plan became clear in her mind. “And we can use the Vashon mansion as a film set.”
Sam’s brow shot up. “I hadn’t thought of that. Nice touch, Lizbet.” He looked to Daisy. “Would your son agree to using the mansion?”
Daisy’s eyes sparkled with excitement. “Let him try to say no to his mother.”
“You don’t think Hammond is going to catch on?” JW asked. “We can create a numbered company, but he might dig down into the details and find out it’s us.”
“He’s very smart,” Daisy agreed.
“Let’s assume he figures out it’s us,” Sam said. “And let’s assume he makes the leap to it being a matchmaking scheme. From what I understand, there’ll be twenty or thirty people on the crew, likely half of them women. He’ll never know who she is.”
“Oh, oh, oh!” Daisy was practically jumping up and down. “We lead him to think it’s someone else. We hire someone really obvious and throw her in front of him.”
“The female lead,” Lizbet said, her excitement mounting. “She can be drop-dead gorgeous. Oh, he’ll think he’s so smart.”
“A red herring.” JW mused. “That could work.”
“While he’s busy avoiding the starlet,” Hannah said, “MacKenzie will be standing right beside him, day after day, looking interesting and wonderful. It’s brilliant.” She counted off on her finger. “First thing we need is a script, something that takes place in a Boston mansion with a bombshell of a leading lady.”
“How much is all this going to cost?” JW asked.
“The location will be free,” Sam said.
“Oh, this is going to be such fun,” Daisy said. “We’re outsmarting my grandson!”
MacKenzie Bowen braced herself for her friend Chantal Green’s reaction.
“You swore,” Chantal said, rolling up on her elbow on the sand of the Santa Monica beach.
“I know,” MacKenzie said, lying on her back, her eyes squinted against the glare.
“You said, and I quote, ‘not with a gun to my head’.”
“I did,” MacKenzie agreed, putting her prescription sunglasses back on to bring the world into focus. “Thing was—”
“No,” Chantal said with a shake of her blond head. “There is no thing. There’s not a thing.”
“There’s a thing.”
“What thing could there possibly be?” Chantal huffed as she returned to her back on the woven beach mat.
“The executive producer told Glenn that he wanted the exact crew from The Ruby Blue or the deal was off.”
“Glenn’s lying. Who ever heard of The Ruby Blue?”
“Thanks a lot.”
“It’s still in editing,” Chantal said.
“There’s a trailer.”
“Give me a break.”
“Okay, so it’s not going to be up for an industry award. But why would the Glenn lie?”
MacKenzie would admit it was an unusual request for an executive producer to be so detailed about who was on a crew. But they were talking about the Hollywood film industry, most requests were unusual.
“So he can take another shot at you.”
MacKenzie shook her head against the softness of the sand base. “He knows he doesn’t have a chance of dating me.”
“Then he’s out to make your life hell…again.”
“He’s offered me twice the money.” MacKenzie sat up on her own mat.
“He’s a bastard, Kenz. He probably wants revenge.”
“I can’t be the only woman who’s ever turned him down. He has to have better things to do than get revenge on me.”
“He’s a film producer. You are the only woman who’s ever turned him down. At least the only one from his film crew.”
“It’s in Boston. At a mansion. This one’s called Man from Nowhere.”
The last project with Glenn Pittman, The Ruby Blue, had been set in the swamplands of Louisiana. MacKenzie had worked eighteen-hour days in stifling heat and humidity, subsisting on warm diet cola and soggy granola bars. She’d shared her tent with two lizards, countless spiders, and, on one memorable occasion, a thirty-inch water snake. Her two-hundred mosquito bites had only just healed up.
“Glenn will still be Glenn, even in Boston,” Chantal said.
“At least there won’t be snakes.”
“Except for Glenn.”
MacKenzie couldn’t help but grin at that. “And he’s the biting kind.”
“Ewww.” Chantal grimaced.
“It’s twice the money,” MacKenzie said. “And I don’t have any other offers.”
“So, you’ll sell your soul?”
“I’m not selling my soul. If I say no, then twenty-five crew members don’t have jobs either.” MacKenzie hunted though her beach bag for her suntan lotion.
It was nearing noon and the sunrays were beating down from a sheer blue sky. Couples, families, and clusters of friends walked past at the waterline, while volleyball games went on in the light breeze.
“You’re not responsible for the financial health of twenty-five crew members.”
MacKenzie stood up to spray the lotion on herself. “Maybe not. But I care about all of them. Well, most of them. And it’s a pilot, Chantal. Can you imagine if it gets picked up?”
“That’s a thousand to one shot.”
Chantal was an assistant director, the daughter of a prop master, and she’d been around the film industry since she was a kid.
“They’ve got Pippa Carrington to play the lead.”
Chantal sat up. “Seriously?”
Pippa Carrington had starred in a web-based miniseries that was in the process of going viral.
“Care to revise that thousand to one prediction?”
“Well, crap,” Chantal said. She reached into their cooler for a soda.
“I honestly think I can do it,” MacKenzie said.
Glenn Pittman was a tough man to work for, worse since he’d made a pass at MacKenzie in the Brickhouse Tavern. She’d shut him down. And, afterward, he’d leapt on any excuse to embarrass and berate her in front of other crew members. Many of them knew exactly what was going on, but it was still tough to take.
“Then, I’m coming with you,” Chantal said.
“You can’t come—”
“Sure I can.” Chantal popped the top of her cola can. “Tell him he just hired another AD. I’m very good.”
“I know you’re good, but—”
“He wants you, he gets me. If the deal will truly fall apart without you, then I’m a cheap price to pay.”
Chantal didn’t have to leave LA. She was in high demand here in Hollywood.
“I’ll protect you.” She vowed. “Where exactly are we going? And for how long?”
“The shoot is five weeks. Some real estate mogul’s place in Boston. The name is Vashon.”
“An actual mansion? I can live with that. Do you suppose there’ll be servants and everything?”
“We won’t be living in the mansion. We’ll only be working in parts of it. They’ll set up the film circus on the grounds.”
“I can deal with living in a trailer. But get us private washrooms.”
“You want to make me a list of demands?”
MacKenzie scoffed as she shook her head.
“You’re really going to do this, aren’t you,” Chantal said.
“I’m really going to do this.”
It was a good paycheck, which MacKenzie needed. And the possibility that a series pilot starring Pippa Carrington might picked up by a broadcaster could not be ignored.
But MacKenzie would be clear with Glenn up front. If he was going to try to mess with her again, he’d regret it.
She wasn’t exactly sure how she’d make him regret it, since producers were pretty much gods on a film set. But she’d come up with something.
“Run that by me one more time.” Hammond Vashon spoke through the open driver’s window of the semitruck parked in his front driveway.
The man was the first in a line of six massive vehicles, snaking their way from the street to the mansion.
“This is the address,” the man said, handing Hammond a clipboard with a freight manifest.
The name and address were correct, but that didn’t mean nobody had made a mistake.
Hammond took in the white, aluminum sided trailer dotted with tiny windows. “Are you perhaps looking for Hunter Vashon?”
“Listen, buddy,” the truck driver said.
“No, you listen. This is private property, and you have no business here.”
The trucker clamped his jaw, withdrawing the clipboard.
Hammond sized up the circumference of the driveway turnaround in relation to the length of the trucks. It was clearly too small.
“If you go around the end of the garage,” he told the man, “you’ll find the delivery parking area you can use as a turnaround.”
As Hammond spoke, his father’s silver, luxury sedan pulled around the truck and up to the front of the house.
“Maybe this is our contact,” the trucker said.
“It’s not,” Hammond said. “But let me go talk to him before you do anything with this convoy.”
Hammond stepped back from the truck, heading for his father’s car as Richard exited from the back seat.
“I’m taking care of it,” Hammond called out, prepared for his father’s frustration at the end of a long work day.
But instead of reacting, Richard silently took in the spectacle.
“Go pour yourself a scotch.” Hammond suggested. “Tell mom I’ll be a few minutes late getting in to dinner.”
“They’re early,” Richard said, his gaze still on the trucks.
Hammond couldn’t come up with even a whiff of a response to that statement.
“I was told they’d be here Saturday,” Richard said.
Richard’s driver, Seth, exited the sedan and approached them. “A problem, sir? Shall I call the security company?”
“Saturday?” Hammond asked his father, not able to voice a more specific question.
He turned and peered at the lineup of trucks, bearing signs ranging from Northpost Grip and Electric to Savory Craft and Catering. He waited for the situation to make sense.
“We’ll barely notice them,” Richard said, putting a hand on Hammond’s shoulder and attempting to turn him toward the front door of the mansion.
“Barely notice a trucking convoy in our driveway? What are they doing here?”
Had his mother decided to do some renovating? Was she landscaping, adding a new pool house? And if this was a construction job, why wasn’t his brother Hunter here? And why hadn’t they consulted Hammond before finalizing the plans?
“It’s a small film project,” Richard said.
“They’re filming our house?”
Was this for one of those reality real estate shows? It seemed highly unlikely. He’d be stunned if his had father agreed to something like that.
He searched his brain for another logical explanation. “Is this one of Mom’s community charity things?”
If it was a charity event, it would at least make some kind of sense.
“Not precisely,” Richard said, “let’s go inside.” Then he spoke to his driver. “Seth, can you show them the service parking area so they can set things up?”
“How long is this going to take?” Hammond asked.
It was Thursday already. It would be disruptive, but he could clear out for the weekend. He could stay with Hunter, or maybe get a hotel suite downtown. He’d just have to make sure nobody included his bedroom suite or office on whatever mansion video tour they had in mind.
“Not too long,” Richard said as they started to walk.
Hammond looked over his shoulder. “That seems like a lot of equipment.”
“Some of it is the crew living quarters and catering.”
“So, they’ll overnight in the yard?”
They made their way up the stairs and the butler pulled the door open. Three other staff members were standing, watching out the front windows.
“I can clear out for a couple of days,” Hammond said.
He wasn’t about to complain. But it would have been nice to have some notice.
“I need you to stay,” his father said.
“Why?” Hammond paused. “I have no intention of doing an interview for them or anything else.”
For the company, sure, Hammond recognized there were times when he had to be a face of Vashon Holdings. But his personal life was private.
“No one’s asking you to go on camera.”
“But your mother and I…” Richard motioned Hammond into the great room, making his way toward the wet bar at the far end.
The two men worked all day in the same building, but their schedules rarely had them in the same meetings. To compensate, they often took in a predinner drink to discuss Vashon Holdings business.
“Your mother and I have been thinking about taking some time away together.”
Hammond didn’t think that was the worst idea in the world. Since his father’s infidelity had come to light last fall, in the form of an illegitimate seventeen-year-old daughter, his parent’s marriage had been strained.
“Where are you going?” Hammond asked.
“The Mediterranean. I’ve chartered a yacht. The Yardleys will join us in Naples.”
“How is that spending time alone?”
Richard frowned. He didn’t answer and Hammond wasn’t inclined to press. His parents’ relationship was their business. If they needed the Yardleys as a buffer between them, so be it.
“When do you leave?” Hammond asked.
“Saturday,” Richard said. “We’ll be back in plenty of time for Hunter’s wedding. I’ll go over the current projects with you at the office tomorrow.”
Hammond handled most of the day-to-day management of Vashon Holdings, with his father sticking to high-level planning and recommendations. The impact of Richard being out of the office for a few days, or even a couple of weeks, would be minimal.
Richard turned two crystal tumblers right side up, using a pair of silver tongs to transfer ice cubes from the bucket to the glasses.
“Will the film crew be done by the time you leave?” Hammond asked.
“Not exactly,” Richard said, removing the stopper from a bottle of twenty-year-old single malt.
Hammond wasn’t thrilled with that answer. “When will they be gone?”
“In about five weeks,” Richard said, holding out one of the glasses.
It took Hammond’s brain a moment to process the words. “You mean days, five days.”
“I mean weeks.”
“What the hell?”
“What the hell? What are they doing? And why is it going to take five weeks?”
“Keep your voice down, Hammond. Your mother will hear.”
“So what? Does she not know we’re being invaded? Who are these people? And why would you agree to this?”
It was completely out of character for his father to agree to open his home. His mother, sure, if it was for a community cause. But if she didn’t even know about it…
A horrible thought crept in. “Is someone blackmailing you? Did you do it again? Is there another woman?”
“Watch your mouth, Hammond.” Richard took a drink of the whiskey.
Hammond wasn’t about to be intimidated. “Did you have another affair?”
“I did not.”
Hammond didn’t know whether to believe his father’s denial or not.
“Then what is this?” He pressed.
“It’s a pilot. For a television series. They’re using our house as a location.” Richard took another drink, camouflaging his expression.
Hammond stared at his father. He waited for him to laugh, waited for him to say he was joking. But that lineup of trucks in the driveway would be an awfully elaborate joke.
“Is someone blackmailing you?” Hammond asked.
“No. It’s a favor. For a friend.”
“You don’t know him.”
Something was off here. Something was very much off.
Hammond took a slug of his drink. “I’m not staying.”
“I need you to stay.”
“Not unless you tell me what’s going on.”
Richard looked decidedly guilty. “Okay. It is about a woman. But it’s not what you think. It was a very long time ago, and I owe her a lot.”
“For keeping quiet?” Hammond spat, his anger growing.
He was under no illusions his parents had a perfect marriage. And his mother had known about at least one affair and had chosen to forgive Richard. But Hammond was not going to be a party to a cover-up.
“Your mother knows all about it,” Richard said.
“That you were unfaithful?”
“I told you, it wasn’t what you thought.”
Hammond glared at his father, trying to figure out if he was lying.
“Your mother and I are going away.” Richard repeated, carefully enunciating each word. “We are taking some time to ourselves, and we need you here to manage things.”
“I’ll be at Vashon Holdings,” Hammond said. But he had no intention of living on a film set.
“They’re only using the south wing. And a few shots in the great room. And maybe the deck and the pool.”
“Why don’t you list what they’re not using? It might be shorter.”
“Your bedroom suite is off limits.”
“You bet it is.”
Hammond’s mother, Annie, appeared in the hallway archway. “Oh, good. You’re both home. Did you see all those trucks?” She seemed more excited than upset.
“I understand you’re taking a trip?” Hammond asked.
“Oh, you’ve told him.” She drew closer, her smile beaming. “That’s good. Yes, darling. It’ll be a second honeymoon.”
She seemed to be in an awfully good mood for somebody whose husband was being blackmailed by a former lover.
“I’m not crazy about the invasion,” Hammond said.
“Isn’t it exciting? Pippa Covington.”
“Who?” Hammond asked. Was Pippa the blackmailer?
“The actress, darling. Her new web series is all the rage. Think of it.” His mother gestured to the high-ceilinged great room and the large patio beyond. “Our humble home could be made famous.”
“Why would we want that?” Hammond asked.
“Publicity,” Annie said. “And very fun cocktail party conversation. You’ll send us pictures? Maybe take some video. I want to see all the behind the scenes action.”
“Maybe you should postpone the trip.” Hammond suggested.
“We’re not postponing the trip.” Richard’s tone was implacable and his dark eyes glittered with purpose.
It occurred to Hammond that his mother might not be taking this as well as they were both pretending. It was possible the former lover was involved in the production. If that was the case, having Annie at home for the filming was a very bad idea.
Hammond knew he was trapped. He couldn’t turn his father down without potentially hurting his mother.
She put her hand on Hammond’s arm. “You’ll take plenty of pictures?”
“I will,” he reluctantly agreed, polishing off the scotch. He glanced at the signature, gold-topped bottle, thinking it might be smart to move a stock of it to his bedroom suite, since that was likely where he’d be holed up for the coming few weeks.
End of Excerpt