She haunted him.
There were times when he could think of nothing else. She was passionate one moment, spurning him the next. She drew him, excited him.
And he couldn’t have her.
In his home office in the hills outside of Los Angeles, Zachary Albright Wilder paced the length of the spacious hickory-paneled room, his anger growing with each agitated step. “What do you mean she won’t work with me?” Zachary snapped. “Deliver me from divas.”
“Now, Rolling Deep,” Oscar Winters, his agent, soothed, using Zach’s professional nickname. “Forget this one and move on. After two weeks of not taking my phone calls, I was finally able to corner Laurel Raineau’s agent and pull from the sharp-tongued woman that it’s your reputation with women and for hard partying that has Raineau backing off. Her agent said that your image isn’t the kind she wants associated with her classical music.”
“What!” Zachary came to a complete stop and shoved his hand through thick, straight black hair that brushed the collar of his shirt. “We’re in the 21st century for goodness sake! Sure, I go out with a lot of women, but I’d be suicidal if I was intimate with all of them. I couldn’t possibly party as much as the media says or I wouldn’t have a wall full of platinum and gold records I’ve produced.”
“Just what I told her agent,” Oscar agreed.
“It’s not my fault the media chooses to go with what titillates and sells more magazines and newspapers and boosts readership or ratings on the radio or on TV rather than the truth,” he said, moving across the hand woven silk rug in front of his massive cherry desk. “To have them tell it, I’ve slept with every female artist I’ve ever produced, and in my spare time, there are the movie starlets and heiresses.”
“I tried to tell her agent it was all hype, R.D.”
R.D., Rolling Deep, the moniker given to him by one of the first clients he’d ever worked with, a hard-core hip hop artist whose hero was Scarface. The name stuck as Zach worked with more and more musicians who came from the street or who wanted people to believe they had.
“Perhaps it’s the name.” He rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn’t thought about it much. To him, the nickname simply meant he didn’t have to look to anyone to cover his back. However, he was certain no one feared him. It was the exact opposite. When he went out, he was usually swarmed by autograph seekers or approached by hopeful musicians. He’d changed his cell phone number again just last week because of so many unwanted calls. 24-hour manned security at the gated entrance of his home wasn’t ego, but necessary to maintain his privacy.
“But your name is known all over the world. You have the golden, or should I say, the platinum touch.” Oscar chuckled.
“It seems Laurel Raineau didn’t get the memo,” he said sarcastically. He’d promised himself long ago that he’d never let his success go to his head. He’d seen it wreck havoc with too many lives. Your star could fall even faster than it rose.
“Forget her,” Oscar said again. “In two months, you go back into the studio with Satin to do her next album. She was at Spargo last night and asked about you.”
Zach grunted. The restaurant in LA was one of ‘the’ places to be seen. The very reason Zach seldom went there anymore. Satin had the voice of an angel and the sexual appetite of a succubus. While working with her on her last album he’d flatly told her that if she didn’t stop coming on to him, he was walking. He had never been intimate with a client and he didn’t intend to.
He should just move on as Oscar said, but he couldn’t. Despite her snobbish attitude, when Laurel Raineau picked up a violin, it was pure magic. The music drew you, moved you. Passion and fire.
Laurel was five-feet-three and probably weighed one-hundred and ten pounds soaking wet with all of her clothes on. Yet, her music was more powerful than any he had ever heard, and he’d listened to and played musical instruments for as long as he could remember.
For personal and professional reasons he wanted to produce her next album. As a free agent, he was in a position to pick and choose his projects. There was a long list of musical entertainers from every genre who wanted to work with him.
All except Laurel Raineau. That stopped today. “Did you get her address?”
“I did,” Oscar answered, relief in is voice that he had been able to do at least one thing his biggest client had asked. “It’s a couple of miles from you, actually.” He gave him the address.
Zach was moving behind his desk before his agent finished. “Hold.” He pressed the intercom to the garage. “Toby, bring the car around immediately.”
“Be right there, Zach.”
Toby Yates, friend, former drag car racer, and chauffeur was one of the few people who called Zachary by his name. “Talk to you later, Oscar.”
“If you took no for an answer, you wouldn’t be where you are today. Bye.”
Zachary disconnected the call and headed for the front door. Ms. Snob wouldn’t find it so easy to ignore him. She’d have to tell him to his face all the crap she’d said about him – if she had the courage.
Opening the twelve-foot door, Zachary quickly went down the fourteen steps to the waiting black Bentley. Toby was there with the back door open as Zach had known he’d be.
“Thanks.” Zachary practically dove inside. He didn’t need a chauffeur most of the time, but there were occasions when he was working on a song, was too tired after seemingly endless hours in the recording studio, or with a client that he didn’t want to drive. It also gave Toby a reason to stick to his sobriety. He’d been with Zach ever since Zach came to L.A. against his father’s wishes to make a name for himself in the music industry.
Zach’s fist clenched. He’d done what he’d set out to do, but the rift between him and his father was never mended before his death.
The car pulled off smoothly and started down the long drive. The iron gates swung open. He gave Toby the address. He wouldn’t need a GPS system. He’d grown up in L.A. and knew the streets well.
In a matter of minutes, Toby turned up a steep hill that gradually leveled off. Up ahead was the ambiguous iron gate. Zach felt a muscle leap in his jaw. Toby pulled up until the back window of the car was even with the speaker box.
Zach rolled down the window and punched the black button. “Zachary Wilder to see Ms. Raineau.”
“Ms. Raineau is unavailable.”
Zachary held on to his temper. It wouldn’t do any good to blow. The person was just following orders. “Perhaps if you’d tell her who is calling, she might change her mind.”
“The answer would be the same,” came the droll answer.
Patience. “If you would please just tell her.”
“Sir. She is unavailable and this conversation is over.”
Zachary locked the curse behind his lips. If he ever got his hands on Ms. Snob, he’d have a few choice words with her. He sat back in his seat. “Home.”
Toby pulled off and started back down the road. Arms folded, Zachary slumped back in his seat. Somehow, some way, he was going to talk to her.
“Zach, a stretch limo just came out of the gate.”
Zach shot up in his seat. Sure enough, there was a black limo behind them. The car could have dropped her off or anyone else off or have someone else inside. “Once we’re on the street, follow it and don’t let it get away.”
Toby snorted, straightened his mirror. “You’re such a kidder.”
Zach grinned. Toby lived for speed. He might not have a GPS system, but he did have the latest radar detector.
The limo passed and although Zach already knew he wouldn’t be able to see inside, he leaned closer to the window. “Can you tell if it’s a car service or private?”
“Service,” Toby answered.
The chances went up that Laurel might be in the car. People who were as successful as she usually had a personal driver. They tended to be more loyal and they were on hand whenever you needed them, but Laurel hadn’t been in LA long enough to hire a driver.
“He’s taking the exit to LAX.”
Better and better. Zachary watched the limo take the lane for departing international flights. “Ten bucks says Ms. Snob is in that car.”
“Not this time,” Toby said good naturedly. “I always lose when I bet with you.”
Laughing, sensing he’d run Laurel to ground at last, Zach scooted forward in the back seat. “I’ve got you now.”
“The paparazzi are always hanging out here. You’re going to have to be fast on your feet to get past them,” Toby warmed.
Zach had always been courteous in the past. It was better that way. However, today he had no intention of letting the horde with cameras and mics slow him down.
The limo inched its way over to the curb and parked. Toby muscled the Bentley in ahead of a Jaguar. The man in the car laid on his horn in protest. “You better hurry. I’ll circle”
Zach was already reaching for the door handle. On the sidewalk, he hurried toward baggage check-in for First-class passengers. He didn’t see her at first, until a guy who looked like he could bench press 500 pounds and not break a sweat moved to reveal a delicately shaped woman wearing large-rimmed sunglasses, a short-brimmed woven hat edged with black ribbon, a white blouse, and slim black pants. On the other side of her was a twin to the first guy.
Laurel Raineau. Victory. Grinning, Zach moved to follow her into the terminal. He made it within five feet of her before one of the twin samurai faced him, blocking his way. He moved to step around him. The man moved with him.
“You’re in my way,” Zachary said.
The man said nothing.
Zachary tried to look past or over him, but that was impossible. He was a yard wide. “Should I call airport security?”
The bodyguard folded his massive arms.
“Rolling Deep!” a female voice screeched. “It’s Rolling Deep!” The cry was taken up by another and another. If he had miraculously managed to escape the attention of the paparazzi earlier, he was in for it now.
A crowd converged on him. Cameras flashed. The bodyguard moved back, then turned and walked away. There was no way Zach would try to follow. People would follow. If he got close to her again, her bodyguards would stop him. He was sure security was nearby, watching to see that things remained relatively calm.
All he’d need was Laurel seeing him having an altercation with the authorities. She already thought the worst of him. Swallowing his disappointment, he signed any paper and legal body parts presented to him.
Laurel had managed to escape him.