I jerked awake, head throbbing and eyes glued together, when a knock sounded on my door. Or at least, I thought it was my door. I wasn’t sure, to be honest. I didn’t remember falling asleep last night, so I might have crashed somewhere other than my Malibu mansion.
I dragged my arms out from under my pillow, but they were too numb to feel if the sheets were the satin I preferred or some other fabric. I appreciated the coolness, though. My body felt like a furnace. I rolled over, tangling myself worse in the bedding, then kicked at it for a moment, but I was too exhausted to free myself.
When I cracked my eyes open to see who was there, the light instantly pierced my retinas. I quickly shut them and dropped an arm over my face, pretending whoever it was didn’t exist if I couldn’t see them.
Footsteps thudded over to the bed, and my manager’s voice barked out, “Beau, what are you doing in bed? You were supposed to be on a flight an hour ago.”
A flight? No, that couldn’t be right. I didn’t do airplanes unless I absolutely had to, and not unless I drank myself into oblivion first. Maybe that’s what I’d done. That could explain why I felt like I’d been run over by a Mack truck. But typically, I timed my pre-flight drinking so I was riding the high during the plane ride, not crashing from a hangover.
Where was I supposed to be going, anyway? I didn’t remember. I didn’t need to travel for work since I was in that no-man zone in between projects that I hated, where there was nothing to keep my mind occupied but thoughts about the meaninglessness of everything.
I loved the thrill of taking on a new project. It filled me with anticipation and purpose, and I immersed myself in it till my whole life revolved around it. Once the filming was over, I jumped right into interviews and TV appearances to promote the new film. When the movie released, I rode the wave of exhilaration as fans flocked to see it and the whole world raved about my new hit. It was only after the excitement faded that my euphoria dissolved into spirit-crushing depression.
I tried to avoid it by booking my projects as close together as possible so I could jump straight from one into another, but it didn’t always work out that way. Like right now, when I had two months to kill till I started filming my next movie. Now I remembered why I was nursing a killer hangover.
I’d gone to a party last night, hoping to fill the void with something besides loneliness and despair. Instead, I’d filled it with alcohol and the attention of a woman I had no business trying to attract.
I swiped a hand across the space beside me, hoping there was no one else there. Thankfully, I was alone. I didn’t need that kind of negative publicity, although I suspected I already had it. Undoubtedly, somebody had snapped a picture of me hitting on Tamara West, the girlfriend of AJ Jennings, another Hollywood hotshot who competed with me for headlines.
I’d had more than my share of bad publicity lately, which was why my manager, Dave, had strongly suggested I do something admirable, for once. That was why I’d agreed to fly to the tiny town of Sweet Bay and make a guest appearance at the grand opening of Calvin Montgomery’s resort. It was all coming back to me.
I groaned and dropped the hand from my face, forcing my eyes open against the blinding light of the late-morning California sun. Dave stepped in front of the window, surrounding himself with a halo he didn’t deserve, but, thankfully, blocking some of the sunlight. He yanked the covers off me, which stirred up a blissfully cool breeze.
“Come on, get up. You can’t bail on this. Especially not after last night. They’re already making up rumors about you and Tamara.”
“I thought you said I missed my flight,” I mumbled. A normal person probably wouldn’t have understood me, but Dave had been dealing with me and my moods for a long time now. The fact that he put up with me when I got like this made me a little more willing to put up with him bossing me around, even though, technically, he worked for me.
“You did, but I hired a private jet to take you. If we leave in the next hour, you should still get there on time.”
Panic ran like ice water through my body, freezing me in place. The only part of me that could move was my eyes, which bulged out, and my mouth, which instantly spouted objections. “No way, man. No small planes. You know I don’t do that.”
Not since both my parents died in a plane crash when their private jet took a nosedive into the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s one quick jaunt. Less than two hours. You can take a commercial plane back afterwards.” He waved in the maid, who held out a glass of orange juice and a couple aspirin.
As much as I wanted to roll over and go back to sleep, the juice and pills sounded even better, so I forced myself upright and took them from Maria then tossed back the pills and downed the orange juice in one long gulp. I let myself fall backwards onto the bed, but Dave grabbed my shoulders.
“You need this, Beau. It’ll be good for your reputation and good therapy, too. You need to get over your fear of flying.”
I knew it was irrational. The odds of me dying in a plane crash, even a small plane, were way less than the odds of dying in LA traffic. And why did I care, anyway? I spent a significant portion of my life wondering if there was any point to living. But I couldn’t control the panic that took over my body when I boarded an airplane.
I shook my head insistently and tried to lie back down again, but Dave kept a hold on my shoulders. “We’ll get you a little hair of the dog that bit ya, and you can go back to sleep on the plane. You’ll be there before you know it.”
He gestured to the maid, and she dug in the cabinet over my wet bar and pulled out a bottle of tequila then poured me a shot. I downed it just as fast as the orange juice. When I held the shot glass out and leaned forward to hand it to Maria, Dave took advantage of my position to yank me out of bed. I stumbled forward, foot caught in the blanket, and almost crashed us both into the dresser before he righted us.
“Go take a shower, Beau. You stink.”
I growled but staggered to the bathroom. I needed to pee, anyway, and a shower sounded good, too. Fifteen minutes later, I emerged with a towel around my waist. I convinced Maria to give me another shot of tequila then plopped back down on the end of the bed. Dave tossed some clothes at me, but I ignored them and dug some pajama pants and a ratty tee shirt out of my dresser. I knew I’d have to dress up for the event later, but for now, I wanted to be as comfortable as possible.
I didn’t worry about packing anything. That was one of the luxuries of being a celebrity. I had people to do stuff like that for me. I was sure Dave or Maria or somebody had already taken care of it. The only thing I grabbed was my cell phone and the bottle of tequila when Dave wasn’t looking.
My bare feet slapped against the cold marble as I tromped down the wide, curving staircase and out the front door, where Dave’s car waited under the portico. He opened the door so I could climb in the back seat. I stretched out, but there was no way I could sleep, even though it would take close to an hour to navigate through LA traffic to the airport. My nerve endings were already sparking with anxiety like downed wires.
I pressed my forehead against the window, trying to cool my flaming skin, and stared out at the city as we drove. I couldn’t keep my thoughts from circling around the idea of flying in a small plane, though. Images of my parents, crashing to their death, fear etched across their faces, flashed through my mind. They felt like memories, even though I hadn’t been there. I heard the squawk of the radio, the fear-laced voice of the pilot barking into it, the warning buzzers blaring.
My own body vibrated with nerves, my head pounded, my heart raced, and the tequila and orange juice churned in my stomach, rolling back and forth as the car stopped and started. The interior of the car closed in on me like a coffin.
I couldn’t stand it another moment.
The car lurched to a stop again, and I scrambled for the door handle. “I have to get out of here!” I barked and flung the door open, but not before the car started moving again.
I didn’t care. We weren’t going more than a few miles an hour. I jumped out of the car, tumbled onto the sidewalk, and crashed into a group of pedestrians. I heard Dave squeal the brakes and holler out the open door, “What are you doing?”
The crowd flowed around me, threatening to swallow me, as I lay on the sidewalk for a moment, curled up in fear. A hand reached down to help me, so I grabbed it and let them pull me to my feet. The guy tilted his head in recognition and stared at me. “Are you okay, man?”
The people streamed around me, gawking at me, their voices echoing in my brain. I clamped my hands over my ears to try to block the noise. Hands grabbed for me, and cameras flashed around me, making me dizzy, but I didn’t have any more hands to push them away or cover my eyes. I started bellowing, “Leave me alone! Get away from me!”
When someone slammed into me from behind, I stumbled forward, and vomit spewed from my mouth, spraying onto the people in front of me. They squealed and backed away just enough that I could push through them. I didn’t know where I was going till I saw a shady-looking guy on the corner exchange a baggie for a handful of bills.
That was what I needed — something to make it all go away. I’d done drugs a few times, enough to remember the blissful nothingness I felt when I was on them. My body automatically moved towards the man.
I grabbed for him, latching onto his arm. “Gimme something, man. I need to take the edge off.”
He glared at me and shook my hand off. “I don’t know what you’re talking about, dude. I ain’t got nothin’.”
“Yes, you do, I saw you. Come on, I need it.” I groped at his clothes, sticking my hands in his pockets. He shoved me away.
“Money, you need money. How much?” I dug in the pockets of my pajama pants, turning them inside out, but didn’t find any money.
“Please, I’m rich. I’ll pay you later. My manager will pay you.” I looked around for Dave. His face bobbed in the crowd, headed for me but still several yards away.
But suddenly, another face filled my vision — a hard mask, half hidden under a dark blue hat with a shiny bill and a silver crest in the middle. The man grabbed my arm and twisted it behind my back then snapped a cold ring of metal around it.