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“My goodness,” Lena muttered, running her hands vigorously over her arms. “It is freezing in here!”
“I’m not cold at all,” Devon replied.
They had arrived in Leavenworth, Washington, to begin filming With A Bow On Top earlier that morning and were sitting inside of the Bavarian Lodge’s Woodsman Pub. It was late November, and the quaint little German village was chilly to say the least. But for Devon, its bustling holiday spirit more than made up for the weather.
Twinkling lights, evergreen garland, and bountiful wreaths hung from the storefronts and restaurants. Horse-drawn sleighs rode through the streets of downtown. Groups of carolers were gathered at the Front Street Park’s gazebo, singing holiday tunes. Considering how dismal Christmastime was in Devon’s industrial hometown of Berman, Indiana, Leavenworth was unlike anything she’d ever seen.
The Bavarian Lodge, where the film crew was staying, was also brimming with colorful Christmas décor. Bright icicle string lights hung from the luxurious resort’s rooftop. A ten-foot-tall Fraser fir tree stood in the middle of the plush, old-world-style lobby. Red velvet bows adorned the dark wooden fireplace mantel. And miniature gold poinsettias lined the concierge desk.
As Devon continued to admire the festive décor surrounding them, she heard Lena’s teeth chatter.
“I am not surprised that you aren’t cold,” Lena muttered. “You grew up in Indiana. I’m from Florida. I never had to go through this type of torture.”
Devon chuckled softly as she slid toward the edge of her brown leather chair. The flames flickering from the fireplace emitted a cozy wave of heat. She took a sip of her hot chocolate then a bite of her cabernet berry pie, relishing the merry atmosphere. The moment made her realize just how badly she’d needed a break from LA.
And all things Ryan.
“What time is the van picking us up?” Lena asked.
Lena slid her chair closer to the fireplace, still shivering. The bartender walked over and wrapped a red and green crocheted blanket over her shoulders.
“Oh, God bless you,” Lena told her. “You’re a lifesaver.”
“No problem,” the bartender said. “I know what you’re going through. I moved here from Arizona three years ago. And I still haven’t adjusted to the weather.”
“Luckily, we’ll be returning to LA in a matter of weeks. But wishing you all the best!”
“Thanks,” the bartender replied. She glanced down at the script in Devon’s hand. “You two must be in town working on that Christmas movie.”
“Yep, we are,” Lena replied.
“Can you give me a little inside scoop on what it’s about?”
Devon smiled as she flipped through the pages. “Sure. The film is called With A Bow On Top, and it’s about two childhood frenemies whose parents run rival inns on opposite sides of town. Every year, they compete with one another to host the annual Christmas festival. Once their parents decide to retire, each of their now-grown children take over their respective businesses. This year, the competition between them to host the festival is at an all-time high.”
“Ooh, that sounds good. Who’s starring in it?”
“Michael Gates is playing our hero, and Cora Scott is playing the heroine.”
“I love Michael Gates,” the bartender gushed. “But I’ve never heard of Cora Scott. Who is she?”
Devon and Lena glanced at one another out of the corners of their eyes.
“Yeah, um…” Lena said. “Cora is pretty new to acting. She’s a very well-known social media influencer.”
“Hmm. Interesting. Well, good luck with filming, ladies. Let me know if you need anything else,” the bartender replied before walking off.
“I still can’t believe Cora was cast in our movie,” Devon said.
“Neither can I. And it’s all thanks to her three million followers on Instagram and two million on TikTok. The game has changed. It’s popularity over talent these days.”
“Yes it is, unfortunately,” Devon agreed. “Too bad the producers didn’t recognize her lack of talent before she was cast. Her inability to deliver lines is the reason we had to do all those rewrites.”
Lena nodded her head. “And let’s not forget her ridiculous set demands. The special foods, the spin instructor, the life coach, the need to use her own hair and makeup people… But hey, at least we’ve got Michael on board.”
“Thank goodness. We need a skilled Emmy winner like him who’s easy to work with and great for on-set morale. He’ll be the yang to Cora’s yin.”
Lena grabbed the itinerary and scanned the schedule. “It’s almost two o’clock. Where are we going again?”
“Our esteemed director, Max, wants the production crew to check out the Icicle Ridge Winery. He thinks the tasting room would be a good place to shoot a date night scene, and the outdoor lawn would be the perfect area to film the Christmas festival scene.”
“Hmm, I like that idea. I guess I need to get my head out of this script and into the itinerary so that I’ll know what’s on the agenda.”
“No worries,” Devon said. “That’s what I’m here for. I don’t mind keeping you posted on the schedule.”
She glanced out at the window, soaking in the breathtaking views of the snowcapped Cascade Mountains in the distance. A tingling thrill shot through her chest. She still couldn’t believe that she was actually on location, preparing to shoot a movie she’d helped to write.
“I am so excited to be here,” Devon murmured.
Lena tossed her script down onto the table.
“You know what? So am I. I have managed to become so jaded over the years. And I think I’ve taken my career for granted. Hearing how happy you are is a reminder of how lucky I am. How lucky we are. We’re getting paid pretty well to wake up every morning and do what we love. There are people out there who would kill to live this life.”
“Like Madison,” Devon blurted out.
“Oh, yes. Madison. Your former friend turned competitive frenemy once she got a taste of success in Here To Stay’s writers room. How is she doing these days? Have you spoken to her?”
“No, I haven’t.” And I don’t want to, Devon resisted the urge to add. “Things were pretty rocky between us before the show got canceled. Then she completely stopped speaking to me once you and I began working on Out For Blood.”
“Jealousy. Such a poisonous trait to possess, especially in Hollywood. You never know who may present you with your next big break. So it’s best to remain humble and treat everyone kindly, even when you don’t want to.”
“Absolutely. But Madison always believed that she was better than me. She never in a million years thought you’d give me an opportunity over her.”
“And look at the end result. We’ve got a big hit on our hands that’s been guaranteed two more seasons. Thanks to her petty antics, she missed out on being a part of it. Honestly, had you come to me and suggested that I hire her as a staff writer, I probably would’ve said yes.”
Wow, Devon thought. She could have been the one to change Madison’s life. But after undermining her in the writers room, Madison didn’t deserve it.
“You know,” Devon said, “her motto has always been ‘I don’t care about burning bridges because I know how to swim.’ She had that meme set as the wallpaper on her cell phone, laptop, and desktop computer. And she really did live by it.”
Lena chuckled. “Well, look at where it got her. Last I heard, that reality dating show she was working on as a production assistant was canceled after three episodes. I caught a couple of them. They were terrible.”
“You mean the one where contestants send their significant others out on dates with their exes to see if they’d be a better match? Yeah, I heard it wasn’t good. After hearing the premise, I didn’t bother to check it out. I actually felt bad for Madison when she was forced to take such a huge step down from staff writer to PA.”
Lena waved Devon off while draining her glass. “I didn’t. She got too cocky while working on Here To Stay and thought the ride would never end. She wasn’t prepared to move on. She never thought the show would get canceled. But in all fairness, none of us did.”
Devon felt a slight pull in her chest. Here To Stay was special to everyone who’d worked on the show. For her, it meant everything. The production was what brought her out to LA and helped bring her dreams to fruition. It had also introduced her to Ryan, the man she’d thought was the love of her life.
Stop it. Do not start drowning in a pool of Ryan memories…
“But even though things went left with Madison,” Lena continued, “at least we were smart enough to bring Lizzie along with us. All thanks to you, of course.”
Lizzie was an intern who’d worked on Here To Stay’s final season. After discovering Devon’s story as a small-town girl who’d made it in Hollywood, Lizzie latched on to her and relentlessly pursued a mentorship. Devon eventually became aware of her incredible work ethic and took the eager intern under her wing.
“I know Ryan was more devastated than anyone when Here To Stay was canceled,” Lena said. “How is he holding up?”
A cold chill swept over Devon at the sound of his name. “I don’t know. We broke up.”
“What? When? Why?”
Devon tilted her head back and blinked rapidly. The tears that were beginning to form dissipated behind her eyes. “A couple of months ago. He’s just struggling, Lena. Being out of work, getting rejected at every turn. It got to be too much for him. My success didn’t help the situation. So he told me he needed a break from everything. Including us.”
“Oh, wow, Dev.” Lena reached over and squeezed her hand. “I am so sorry. Are you okay?”
“I am. I guess…” she muttered just as her cell phone buzzed. A message from Max’s assistant, Janie, popped up on the screen.
The van just pulled up in front of the lodge! Meet us outside?
On our way! Devon replied.
She quickly began gathering her things, pushing all thoughts of Ryan out of her mind. “The van is here.”
Lena remained silent as she stared into a compact mirror and rearranged her curly bob.
“I told Janie we’d meet everybody outside,” Devon continued.
Instead of standing up and following Devon toward the door, Lena pulled a tube of lip gloss from her handbag and took her time while applying it.
Devon shuffled her feet. They shouldn’t leave the crew waiting. But Lena was dusting pressed powder across her forehead.
Lena never wore makeup. Nor did she ever care about her disheveled hair. Today, however, Lena looked to have taken the time to smooth out the frizz. And she was definitely dressed more stylishly than normal. A tan leather blazer, dark skinny jeans, and high-heel ankle boots had replaced her frumpy cable-knit sweater, comfy gaucho pants, and black combat boots.
What are you up to?
But considering Lena was her boss, Devon didn’t dare ask. Whatever it was, she’d figure it out eventually.
“All right,” Lena said, finally hopping up from her chair and grabbing her things. “Let’s go.”
Devon walked slowly around the perimeter of the Icicle Ridge Winery’s tasting room, taking it all in. A lush, twelve-foot Scotch pine tree stood next to the floor-to-ceiling stone fireplace. Its green and red crystal ornaments matched the wreaths, stockings, and strings of silver bells hanging from the log home’s walls.
Long tables adorned with sparkling gold candles sat in the center of the floor. They were surrounded by high-top tables, which were covered in sparkling gold linen tablecloths and topped with evergreen wreath and red berry centerpieces.
Out of the corner of her eye, Devon noticed Lena huddled in a corner with Max, laughing quietly while nibbling on Brie and sipping glasses of Merlot.
The newly divorced Lena had a huge grin Devon had never seen before. Not even when they’d gotten their movie deal.
Just as Devon began to wonder whether Lena was crushing on Max, Janie ran over and grabbed her arm.
“Have you checked your email?” she asked frantically.
“The executive producer just sent out a message to everyone. Michael Gates dropped out of the film!”
“What?” Devon shrieked. She reached inside the back pocket on her beige cargo pants and pulled out her phone. “Why? What happened?”
“He booked a major role in a Marvel Comics film. So you know he wasn’t gonna pass up that opportunity to star in our little network TV movie.”
Devon felt her legs weaken under the weight of the bad news. She leaned against the wall and pulled up the executive producer’s email.
“But what about Michael’s contract?” she asked Janie. “Isn’t he legally bound to our film?”
“Nope. He auditioned for the part in the Marvel movie before booking the role in our film. There was a clause in his contract stating that if he landed that role, he’d be able to drop out of our movie, just as long as we hadn’t begun shooting yet.”
Devon pressed her palm against her forehead. Ugh. “This is so messed up. I was really looking forward to him playing our lead.”
Janie’s lips tightened as her eyes teared up. “I wonder what Max and the producers are going to do now.”
“Me too. I hope that this won’t cause the production to be put on hold.”
“Now that would be a nightmare.” Janie leaned in toward Devon and lowered her voice. “Just between us, I’m the one who helped get Michael signed to this movie. His assistant is one of my best friends. So when the script landed on Max’s desk, I snuck a copy of it to my friend to see if Michael would be interested. Max promised me that if Michael signed on, he’d give me a producer credit. But since he’s dropped out, I’m sure that won’t happen.”
Janie broke into tears. Devon embraced her tightly. “I am so sorry. Hopefully, he’ll understand that none of this is your fault and still give you the producer cred—”
“Dammit!” Max’s booming voice yelled. “Janie! Where are you? Get the casting director on the phone. Now!”
“Right here, and will do!” Janie called out before turning to Devon. “Thanks for consoling me. And I hope you’re right. I’ll keep you posted!”
She hurried off after Max as he stormed out of the winery.
Lena came rushing over to Devon, her mouth hanging open.
“Can you believe this? Michael Gates was our golden ticket to a guaranteed hit! What in the hell are we gonna to do now?”
“That’s exactly what I’d like to know. At this point, in order to stay on schedule and make this film happen, we’re going to have to pull off a Christmas miracle.”
End of Excerpt