"I've heard stories about you lately, Val," he said calmly, sipping from his Perrier.
"Indeed? Oh, do tell," she said. "I love a good story."
"Well, there are so many," he mused. "Here're a few words and phrases....'Spoiled.' 'Vain.' 'Impossible to work with.'"
She stood stock-still, gaze hooded, head tilting slowly to face him as he circled her.
"I've got more," he said. "'Fiery temper.' 'Talented, but squirrelly.' 'Unpredictable.'" He moved closer. "'Past her prime.'"
She made a negligent gesture, her cigarette leaving dissolving trails spiraling upward. "They do say," she began, "that the only thing worse than being talked about..."
"...'is not being talked about.' Yes, I know. I've been in this business as long as you have, my dear."
Gray eyes narrowed to slits. "I'm not your 'dear', or anyone else's," she hissed. "Call me that again and I'll tear your face off."
"Tut! Manners," he admonished, shaking a finger at her. "We're on in five. Dawes is good at what she does, but even she couldn't cover over fingernail furrows in that short a time."
She tensed; he half hoped she would try it anyway. Might add a little spice, a little zip, to the upcoming scene. He'd been bored out of his skull in the ones they'd done so far, and they weren't even a quarter done with shooting. But then she sagged. The fire in her eyes dimmed to faint embers.
"So let's get it done, then," she said dully. "I've gotten good at playing lies, after all."
He nodded. "So you have," he said softly.
The director's exasperated shout rang through the set. "God dammit, Thomas, what is with you today? Can't you focus for more than two minutes?"
Thomas shook his head and emerged from his reverie, realizing scant seconds later that his hands were still gripping Valerie by her shoulders. There was a very smug look in her gray eyes. "Bitch," he muttered, sotto voce, and her mouth curved in a knowing grin.
He turned to face Wilkins. "Ah....I'm sorry, Scott," he called. "Got my mind on other things, I guess."
Other things. Yeah. Like the warm springy feel of Valerie's body against him. Like the way she smelled, like rain on the ocean. And most of all, damn it all, the way her lips felt on his. Jesus, what was the matter with him? Forty-some years in the biz and he couldn't handle a straightforward love scene? Twenty-odd fucking takes and the words were still coming out like he was carved from wood.
Wilkins was obviously losing patience. "'Other things?'" he parroted sarcastically. "I don't give a good goddamn what other things you have on your mind, but you'd better get rid of them." He tore off his headphones and threw them on the floor. "Everyone take fifteen," he barked. Turning, he glared at Thomas. "You and Valerie go practice this scene. When you get back here, I want to see something better than this amateur hour I've been seeing for the past goddamn hour."
Thomas felt a sinking feeling. He knew what she was going to say, and she didn't disappoint.
"Let's try it in your trailer," Valerie purred. ".....Dear."
The latch clicked shut with a dull snicking sound, and Thomas turned to find Valerie regarding him from all of two feet away. There was a speculative look on her face. Was she sizing him up? Calculating how best to humiliate him, now that she held the upper hand? How, precisely, was she going to make things more difficult for him when they went back to the set?
When she spoke, though, it was so far from what he'd expected that he couldn't process it at all.
"Please tell me," she said tremulously, "that you're feeling it too."
He blinked, honestly stunned. Expecting castigation, he'd heard instead.....what? Concern? Confusion? Was that vulnerability?
She was waiting for an answer. The problem was he didn't have the slightest idea what he was going to say. All his training was gone, all his years of performing had deserted him. And....no, she couldn't mean. Could she?
Now the silence was too old. He had to say something.
"I....guess that depends," he said, his voice sounding rusty and graveled in his ears. "What...are you feeling?"
Valerie seemed to wilt before his eyes, drawing in on herself like a plant in too much sunlight. She sighed. "I guess it was too much to ask," she said, for the first time sounding every bit her age. Her eyes filled and she blinked rapidly. "For a while there I thought....oh, for chrissake, I don't know what I thought."
Thomas felt his old heart skip a beat. Throwing his usual caution to the wind, he stepped in close and kissed her.
God, what a kiss. Worlds different from the playacting they'd been doing for the past hour. There was heat here, and the taste of her lips, like a crisp white wine. There was the rush of fire in his veins, the stirring of desires long dormant. There was a roaring in his ears, and the humming sound of her moaning into his mouth. Most of all there was the passion he'd sensed, the explosive potential she'd kept bottled up for the last few years, releasing it only in fits of temper at assistant directors, draftsmen, costumers, makeup artists and anyone else who annoyed her.
But this vibrancy, this rush of life and heat, this delirious buzzing sensation as they kissed and kissed and kissed, that was something he'd never dared hope for. He'd wondered in idle moments if it was something he was even capable of anymore, in fact. The crackling flame sweeping through his body told him quite emphatically he was capable of it and much more. He was harder than he'd been in years, sporting an indecently prominent erection. Val was obviously aware of it, her hips pressing firmly against him, her hands roaming over his back and down his body, their kiss going on and on, only stoking the flames higher.
An eternity later they broke for air. Val's silver hair was mussed from where he'd been winding his fingers through it, and he guessed his own was no less comical. Right at the moment he didn't give a damn, his only thought how he could get her out of that outfit with a minimum of fuss and take what they obviously both wanted so much. He began fumbling with the buttons on her shirt and she cooperated eagerly. "Yes, yes, my dear, yes," she was saying, the words coming from very far away through the rising buzz inside his skull.
And the outside world chose that exquisite moment to intrude: a hammering fist on the trailer door startled them both into immobility. "Five minutes, Thomas, Val!" a voice called. Rough, brusque, female; probably Wilkins's assistant Freda. Thomas would have cheerfully told her to fuck off running if Val hadn't started shaking with silent laughter.
He looked at her in consternation. "Is this really happening to us? A golden moment like that, spoiled, and all you can do is laugh?"
"It's either that or cry," she managed between gales of mirth. "I guess we'd better not keep them waiting." Her fingers were already working at her shirtfront, buttoning herself up again. She brushed past him and reached for the door, then turned, as if in afterthought.
"But I get the feeling that the scene'll go a lot better this time, don't you think?"
He nodded, swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat for some reason. "Val?" he said as she turned the knob and stepped outside.
She turned back once more, silver hair shining in the spill of sunlight from outside. "Yes, Tom?"
"After we wrap for the day....we need to talk."
She reached out a hand and touched his cheek softly. "Of course we do. And we will. Time enough for that later. We've got all the time in the world."