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Easy On The Eyes

Excerpted from CHAPTER THREE

“I confess I have an ulterior motive for meeting you tonight,” Celia says after we place our order with the waiter. She looks at me, one eyebrow arched. “I wouldn’t bring it up if I weren’t concerned.”

“What is it?” I ask, wondering if this is about Trevor and the Paris stories.

“It’s your girl, Shelby. Rumor’s on the street that she’s taking over your anchor chair the first of the new year.” Celia pauses to wave off the basket of bread the waiter has brought us. No point in having temptation sit on the table and stare you in the face. “Didn’t know if there was any truth behind the talk or not.”

We both know there’s nearly always a kernel of truth behind gossip. Even if it’s a very small kernel, and in this case, it’s not so very small. “She wants it, that’s for sure.”

“But it’s not hers?”

“Not as long as I have any say.”

“Do you have any say?”

I flinch. I’ve known Celia too long to object to the question but it’s a hard one, and it further undermines my increasingly shaky confidence. “I don’t see why I wouldn’t. I’m still the host. My contract’s not up until March.”

Celia looks at me for a long moment and then shakes her head. “Shelby’s hungry.”

“I know.”

“Be proactive. Don’t wait for the other shoe to drop. It’ll only get worse if you do.”

Dinner over, I drive home, park in the garage and enter the house through the side door. I stand in the hallway off my kitchen clutching my briefcase. It’s so quiet.

It’s always so quiet.

For a moment I droop, fatigue rushing over me in waves. I can feel the weight of my computer in my briefcase, the hard adobe tiles beneath my heels, the pinch of my thin snug bra straps. Standing there, I can feel the quiet night like arms wrapping me, holding me, and it’s suffocating. Suffocating and lonely.

Keith.

For the first time in a long time I miss him. Badly.

Keith would know what to do about my career. Keith would know what’s right because even though he was ambitious, he had this incredible inner moral compass. He was a man that couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be had.

Throat aching, I walk slowly to the hall table and put my briefcase down and look around a house I bought for Keith and me. Of course he was dead already, but I knew he’d love this house. I could see us in this house.

Slowly I kick off my heels, one and then the other, before shrugging off my coat and dropping it on the back of a living room chair. Even though it’s almost Thanksgiving it’s a warm night and I head for the French doors and push them open. The potted Meyer lemon tree on the patio is in bloom and the heady citrus scent makes my heart ache.

It doesn’t happen very often anymore, but sometimes at night I dream Keith’s still here, still with me and then in the morning I wake and roll over, warm and happy and then it comes back to me. He’s gone and he’s never coming back.

Which is why I date, and why I want to fall in love again. But Keith will be a tough love to replace.

He was beautiful—a blonde Greco-Roman soldier—and smart, so incredibly smart. I loved looking at Keith while he worked. I loved looking at Keith when we were sitting having coffee and reading through a dozen papers every morning. I loved watching him sleep, whether it was in bed or in his chair where he wrote and edited. He was warm and self-deprecating, funny, heroic. The only thing he feared was not getting the story right. Not getting the truth.

Easy on the EyesHe taught me more than anyone else and in the shortest amount of time. After that meeting on the side of the highway I didn’t see him again for months until we were seated across from each other at an industry awards dinner. We were both attending the dinner with different people and yet there we were, directly across from each other, and every time I looked up I somehow caught his eye and every time I did, I smiled.

I couldn’t help it.

There was something in his face, something gentle and intelligent, kind and loving and the best way I can describe it is think of the actor Greg Kinnear. He had that kind of face. Open and curious and yet most of all kind.

Kind. So very kind to me. So full of love and God knows how much I needed it. How little I’ve had of it. How much I still want it.

And here I am, in my beautiful little historic Mediterranean bungalow alone. I’m so sick of alone. Which is why I’ve continued dating Trevor. Even though he’s far away, and even though we’ll never be soul mates, he makes me feel like I matter. He fills the time, if not the space.

All I know for sure is that I want a life that begins when I open the front door.

I want voices here in my house. I want conversation and lights and activity. Hugs. Talk. Laughter.

I want.

Catching myself, I turn around and head for the kitchen where I open the stainless fridge door and take a look inside. Two pre-packaged meals delivered by In The Zone Delivery, a Tupperware of trimmed radishes, celery, broccoli and carrots, a bottle of pomegranate juice, and an opened bottle of white wine.

I reach for the white wine and pour myself a tiny glass. Wandering out of the kitchen I grab my phone and dial Trevor’s number. It rings five times before kicking into voice mail.

“Trevor, it’s me. Just wanted to hear your voice before went to bed.” I want to hear someone’s voice before bed. I want someone to say goodnight to me, someone to say I love you to me.

But that’s not the relationship Trevor and I have. Ours isn’t love. It’s sex and passing time and keeping company. But that has to count for something.

More brightly I add to my message, “I’ll be up another half hour to hour so call me if you can. Otherwise I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Night.”

I hang up, sip my wine and look out the living room’s open doors to the sparkle of lights on the valley floor.

I take a last sip finishing the miniscule amount I poured myself. I never drink too much because I don’t need the calories but tonight I want the taste. I want the warmth.

And there it is again. I want. Ah, the evils of wanting. I shouldn’t want.

I have more than most.

Except for love and family, I have everything.

The morning comes too early. I wake up and look at the clock. Six fifty am. And then remember it’s Saturday and I’ve nothing to do until eight when Dana my trainer arrives for my (ugh) work out.

I flop back down and tug the covers up higher, wishing I was starting the day without a workout. But there’s no room for error here. Weight, face, image must be perfect.

After ten minutes of not being able to fall back asleep I roll over onto my stomach and reach for my Blackberry that’s been on the bedside table charging all night. After unplugging from the charger I check my calendar for my weekend schedule which I already know will be crazy busy.

8:00 AM Workout with Dana

9:15 AM Fittings with Shannon

10:00 AM Hair appt

11:30 AM Baby shower brunch thrown by pal indie filmmaker Christie Hern at Shutters Hotel on the Beach in Santa Monica

2-5 PM Pediatric AIDS fundraiser hosted by producer Mel Savage and his wife Meg at their home in Brentwood

7-11 PM Political fundraiser at The Getty with a pre-party at 6 hosted by CAA king Steve Lehman at his house for a hundred of Steve’s closest friends.

Easy on the EyesI could possibly sneak out of attending the political fundraiser—I already paid—they don’t need me physically there. But the pre-party at Steve’s is important. Steve is one of Max’s closest friends, and very dialed in, which means I have to go. I’m there not for me but to make my agent look good, so today wardrobe and hair really matter.

But then, I think, climbing from bed, when do I have a day when hair and wardrobe don’t matter?

Dana arrives at eight on the dot, arms full of stretchy bands and huge vinyl balls. She sets them down in the living room and heads back to her car for her medicine ball and I drag my stationery bike from the hall closet (this is LA, we don’t own a lot of coats) and unfold the treadmill that’s in the living room corner.

Back in my house, Dana swiftly shoves my sofa back and I move the coffee table and we have our workout space.

For the next sixty minutes I do weights and reps between two minute bursts of intense cardio. Sprints on the treadmill are followed by a hundred lunges (seriously). Two minutes cycling as fast as I can at the hardest resistance I can bear is the precursor to forty push ups. More treadmill and then squats with the medicine ball. More bike and then shoulder presses and bicep curls and tricep kick backs.

By the time she’s done with me I’m sweating profusely and every muscle quivers. My legs shake as I push the bike back into the closet and head for the shower. I’m still trying to recover when Shannon, my stylist, arrives fifteen minutes later.

Years ago I learned the value of a good stylist after choosing my own evening gown to wear on the red carpet during the pre-award interviews. I thought I looked beautiful and felt like a princess in the salmon silk gown and my hair curled. Instead I ended up being horribly skewered by Joan and Melissa Rivers in their post awards fashion round up. They mocked me for looking more like Cinderella’s pumpkin carriage instead of Cinderella herself. My dress was the wrong color, the skirt too full, the sleeves too puffy, my hair beyond absurd. Apparently I was the show’s fashion travesty. Didn’t I have a mother to dress me, Joan asked?

I don’t, haven’t since I was fourteen, but that’s not the point.

The point is I don’t have good taste. There are women with an innate sense of style but I’m not one of them. I now employ a stylist for all appearances related to my position as host of America Tonight. Happily, it’s an expense Max got covered by the studio in my last contract and that’s helped considerably. Best of all, I haven’t been a fashion victim again although Marta and Shey find it hysterical that I need so much help just getting dressed. In my defense, unlike them, I don’t have an artistic bone in my body which is why my bedroom is still white and my dream of a terraced garden with a pool remains but a dream.

As the doorbell rings I wonder what a weekend in Los Angeles without events would be like.

Two days without hair, make-up, wardrobe. Two days without cameras and paparazzi.

Opening the door I welcome Shannon and take a couple of the garment bags slung over her arm. Shannon’s a tall, willowy redhead, a former costume designer who understands fabric and fit, two things definitely beyond my scope.

The dresses are all beautiful but there’s a clear standout, a fitted Grecian gown in an unusual hue, the color somewhere between plum and eggplant, by designer Naeem Khan topped by a stunning thick silver collar that’s so ornate it might have been worn by an Egyptian queen.

Shannon’s zipping my gown and the zipper sticks for a split second. “Suck it in,” she commands.

I do and the zipper goes the rest of the way up.

“You might want to step up your cardio,” Shannon suggests. “You’re putting on a little weight.”

So it’s not just my imagination. She’s noticed it, too. “I’m working out just as hard, if not harder, than I used to.”

Easy on the Eyes“You’re getting older. Metabolism slows. You’ve just got to cut back on the food.”

“I hardly eat as it is!”

“No one said being thin is fun.” She steps back, studies me. “I like it. What do you think?”

I pivot to face the full length mirror and admire the way the dress hugs my curves and kicks out at the hem. “I love it.”

“The fit’s great and the color’s gorgeous on you.” Shannon steps back to study me. “What about your hair? You’re leaving it down tonight?”

“I’ve got a blow out scheduled.”

“Good. Keep it simple. Just the bangle on your wrist, and the evening bag. Nothing else.”

“Got it.” I start to unzip the gown and then notice Shannon is still studying me closely, a frown creasing her brow. “What?” I ask.

She hesitates. “Glenn’s assistant Andrea called me early last week. The show wants me to start working with Shelby Patterson. Apparently she could use some help, too.”

I go cold and clasp the unzipped dress to my chest. “Did you say yes?”

“It’s good pay.” She gives me a quick smile. “But I’m still your stylist. There’s no reason I can’t dress both of you.”

She leaves with the extra garment bags and I stand in my bedroom feeling naked although I’m fully clothed.

It’s the same feeling I had on my first day at Epworth, the boarding school my grandmother sent me to after my family died. I’d never worn a uniform in my life and the shapeless blue cotton dress hung on me and the white ankle socks felt ridiculous. I was a week shy of fifteen and there I was dressed like an orphan. I was an orphan and my only relative had just shipped me off to boarding school even though I’d just lost my parents and sisters.

I cried for months in my bed, my pillow over my head to muffle my tears.

I missed my mom and dad, missed Willow and Acacia, missed our farm house in Stellenbosch, missed being homeschooled by our mother, missed my father at the kitchen table grading papers.

Missed everything. Missed everyone. Missed me.

That me, that innocent me, died with everyone else that day and it’s never come back. That me, that little girl died in that car crash, too.

I blink and tell myself I can’t feel sad, can’t feel bad, can’t change the past. Life happens. Even when we don’t want it to.

So I do what I’ve done for years, smash back the memories, smothering the feelings and needs, and focus on what needs to be done. And as always, there’s so much to be done. Appointments, fittings, meetings, tapings, appearances. Being Tiana Tomlinson is a full-time job.

The fundraiser’s pre-party is at Steve Lehman’s house, and his five acre estate is high above the city in elegant, affluent, exclusive Bel Air.

There’s been a breeze all day which has blown the smog out of the valley leaving the city glittering like white fairy lights on a Christmas tree.

Cocktail in hand, I walk slowly around Steve’s enormous Grecian style pool which glows with a hundred floating votives. An orchestra plays beneath a white canopy as fountains tinkle and beautiful people laugh and talk and mill about while keeping an eye out for someone more important to talk to.

Easy on the EyesFrom the corner of my eye I see Tom and Katie appear and be welcomed to great fan fare. Across the pool Jessica Biel is talking to Kirsten Dunst. I knew it’d be one of those who’s who parties but I thought I’d find an ally before I felt insignificant.

This is where it gets complicated.

The very fact that I’m here will put plenty of stars teeth on edge. If I were a different TV host I’d work the party, say hello to the famous faces that I’ve interviewed in the past, but I can’t stand it when they give me that little look. The sneer. The half annoyed, half pitying glance that says you don’t belong.

I had enough of that at Epworth. Although I was raised in South Africa, my father was American—he and my mom met while traveling in New Zealand—and I never had a proper South African accent. To the girls at Epworth I sounded like a Yank and they made it clear that I was merely tolerated, not accepted.

There were times I was tempted to name drop. I had impressive connections. The girls would have loved that my mother was a former Miss South Africa, and her mother was Lady Hollingsworth in England but dropped the title when she moved with her new husband, Lord Hollingsworth, to what was then Rhodesia. But I never did. Maybe it was the rebel in me, but I wouldn’t share my past, wouldn’t share my strength, wouldn’t give them access to me.

My father always said I was the secretive one, but I’m not secretive. I’m just reserved. Contained. Willow was the one who wore her heart on her sleeve. She was emotional and tender just like our mother. But just because I didn’t laugh or cry as easily, didn’t mean I didn’t feel.

I feel. I feel so deeply it scares me.

I don’t let many people in because when I do, I’m wide open. Completely vulnerable. The problem is once you’re in my heart you stay.

Even when you’re dead. Even when you’re gone.

Feet already aching, I scan the crowd of expensive suits and elegant gowns and while I know many of them by sight, none are friends like Christie or Celia from People Magazine. My friends aren’t A-listers, we’re the industry’s worker bees, and I’m only here because of Max.

It was Max who helped me through the first year following Keith’s death. After signing me to a contract he had me move straight away to Los Angeles. By the time I arrived with my car and trailer full of possessions, his assistant had found me a sunny one bedroom apartment in a nice neighborhood in Santa Monica within walking distance to the beach.

Those first three months in LA were disorienting. Max knew my history, knew I had no one else and he was always reminding me to get exercise and sleep and to make sure I ate right.

As I settled in, Max introduced me to people. Sent me to meetings and lunches. Got me invited to parties. And then came the offer. HBC was developing a new show and they needed a host. They wanted someone special, someone that readers would take into their hearts and they wanted me.

Me. Tiana Tomlinson, nobody’s girl.

Six plus years, here I am, sipping a Sidecar wearing a Naeem Khan gown on Steve Lehman’s lawn. If this isn’t success, I don’t know what is.

“It’s Ms America,” a horribly familiar voice drawls, sending a shiver down my spine.

Michael O’Sullivan. Satan himself. And yet as I turn to face him, my spirits lift ever so slightly. I’ve been a little too blue and introspective today and sparring with Michael should give me something fun to do. “Hello, Hollywood.”

He’s smiling at me, laughing at me, as amused by me as if I were just a floppy boppy puppy. “Dr. Hollywood,” he corrects with a glint in his eye, looking ever so 007 in his tuxedo with his thick dark hair slicked back to a glossy shine and his jaw freshly shaven.

It really is tragic that he’s this good looking. Must fool most people into thinking he’s likable. I like that I find him unlikeable. I like that I can resist him. Too many women can’t. The man’s far too popular in this town for his own good.

“Have you recovered yet?” he asks, rocking back on his heels. “Or are you still licking your wounds?”

“I’m licking nothing, Dr. O’Sullivan.”

A tiny muscle pulls in his jaw and I see a flash of white teeth. “Then perhaps you need a good licking.”

I blush deeply, my face burning from my collarbone to my hairline. “Dr. O’Sullivan!”

Easy on the Eyes“I love that frosty tone. You do it so well.”

I tell myself I hate him. I tell myself he’s the worst company in the world but my heart is beating a little too hard to believe that. “Don’t you have a date somewhere needing your attention?”

Laughter lurks at the corners of his mouth. “She’s getting me a drink.”

“How chivalrous of you.”

Light flickers in his dark eyes and I realize his eyes aren’t dark brown but the darkest shade of blue. No one has eyes that color. They must be colored contact lenses, which makes me think that he must have done other things. O’Sullivan’s don’t have chins like his, or nearly perfect noses and jaws, either.

“As a plastic surgeon you’re an advocate of plastic surgery.” I pause. “Have you had work done yourself?”

“No, I haven’t. Are you considering work?”

“That wasn’t my question.”

His lashes lower as his gaze scrutinizes my face and then drops even lower to take in my body. It’s a slow inspection, his gaze traveling ever so leisurely over my breasts and then down my waist to my hips and to the thighs. I grow hot beneath his inspection but hold still, unwilling to turn chicken now.

His lashes lift and he looks into my eyes. “Are you asking for my professional or personal opinion?”

I flush hotter. “Why would I want your personal opinion?”

The very air seems to sizzle as he looks down on me. “Why wouldn’t you?”

This is my cue to leave. I ought to spin on my heel the way heroines in my beloved Mills & Boon romances used to do. But I don’t. I’m foolish and proud and reckless and I stand there, chin up. “I do not find you attractive. I am not impressed by your money. And I loathe plastic surgeons.”

He looks down at me and then he smiles a slow, wickedly provocative smile. “But you do like my body.”

For a moment I’m speechless. I don’t know what to say. He’s horrible and impossible and my heart races too fast. “Good bye, Dr. O’Sullivan.”

“It’s Michael, to you.”

I give him the dirtiest look I can and then walk away,
briskly to the other end of the glowing Grecian pool where floating candle boats gleam on the aquamarine surface. My heels sink into the lawn and I can feel the weight of soil cling to my heels’ high lean spikes. I hate him. I hate him. I hate him. And yet I could have kissed him which makes no sense, especially as I hate him so very much.

Tucking my tiny clutch bag I struggle across the lawn, wishing I’d stuck with the flagstone pool deck, wishing my shoes weren’t so high, wishing I hadn’t been on my feet all day. But most of all wishing Michael didn’t affect me like this. He makes me too aware of me, the real me, the one that isn’t hair and make up. The one that lost her family at fourteen. The one that lost her husband at thirty. The one that’s worked relentlessly since then to not feel, want, need, dream.

But he makes me feel. No other man than Keith has made me feel. And that scares the hell out of me.

Easy on the EyesAfter another hour at Steve’s I text Russian John that he can pick me up now, and once I’m in the back of his limo on the way to the Getty I check my phone. Trevor called. I missed his call. I try him but now I go to voice mail.

In the dark I close my eyes, press fingers to my brow and stifle the rush of longing.

I could have handled being a widow better if I’d been married longer. I could have handled being a widow if I’d had a baby.

Christie’s right. I am too alone. If I’m not on camera, I’m off at events and with Trevor so far away I attend most of those on my own.

The bottom line is that this long distance thing isn’t working. I’m too lonely and am just getting emptier by the day. I need to talk to Trevor but I’m not good at sharing feelings. Which might be one reason why I’m a reporter. I ask the questions. I don’t have to answer them.

We’re climbing Getty Center Drive and it’s a steep climb to the top of the mountain where the sleek stark Getty Center was built ten years ago.

I’m not easily awed by theatrics anymore, but my breath catches as I step inside the museum’s largest exhibit hall. The museum’s glass, marble and metal surfaces have been transformed by floor to ceiling tents, the billowy fabric sheathing the walls a hand painted desert landscape that’s subtly and skillfully illuminated by soft purple and golden light. I’m no longer in a modern museum but outside in the middle of a Sonoran desert sunset.

Keith loved the desert. Tuscon. Morocco. Aghanistan. He’d get a kick out of this, I think.

I spend the next hour making my way around the room making cocktail conversation. Familiar to nearly everyone, there are plenty of people I can talk to and I’m happily surprised when dinner is announced.

Gown swishing I thread my way through the tables with their deep violet cloths and glowing candlelight looking for Max’s table, dazzled all over again by the decor. The fabric walls capture the undulating hills of the desert shadows while the fabric ceiling is that of a soft night sky.

Max spots me before I see him. He lifts an arm, signals to me. He’s been in conversation with his wife and another couple but breaks away to speak to me.

“Love the dress,” he says, giving me a kiss on the cheek.

“Thank you. If only my feet weren’t killing me.”

He glances around the table until he finds my seat. “Here you are. Seated between Greg Breese and Alex Frost.”

He pulls out my chair for me and with a grateful sigh I sit down, setting my little black clutch on top of my plate. It’s been a long day on my feet.

“Enjoying yourself?” Max asks

“It’d be more fun with a date,” I admit.

“Too bad Trevor couldn’t be here.”

Trevor’s only attended one event with me in the six months we’ve been seeing each other so it’s difficult to imagine us as a couple despite the media frenzy of the past few days. “It’s a gorgeous party. Clever to do a wildlife conservation theme. Reminds everyone that Democrats care about the environment.”

“So how is he?” Max persists.

“He’s fine.”

“Yeah?”

What else does Max want me to say? What does everyone want me to say? Trevor is sexy. Trevor has gorgeous hair. Trevor has a muscular body. Trevor has six pack abs. And Trevor lives in London. He flies to LA every couple of months but usually it’s me doing the flying around, me putting the stress on my body. Truthfully, I’m tired. I’ve been tired for a long time and I’m not sure if I can keep this lifestyle up. “Yeah.”

Max drums his fingers on the table. “You like him?”

Easy on the EyesYes, I like him. But he’s not Keith. He’s definitely not Keith, and I want to find a Keith. Someone I can fall in love with again. Someone I can believe in again. But I suppose to do that I have to stop dating men who live thousands of miles away. “Yes, Max.”

“Good. When do you see him again?”

“I don’t know. As you’re aware, he’s on location in France. I work here. It’s not an easy commute.”

“So you’re going to leave him alone with Kiki?” Max asks shrewdly, knowing like I do that Kiki has a reputation for seducing her co-stars.

“Max, I have a career, too. A career that might be in trouble—“

“Yes, and Trevor’s good for you.”

What Max really means is that Trevor has upped my fair market value. I’m a hotter, more exciting commodity with Trevor attached to my name.

So maddening.  So LA.  But also so true.

end of excerpt

Easy On The Eyes is available in the following formats:

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5 Spot

ISBN: 9780446509404

July 22, 2009

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