Killing His Alter-Ego 2 covers

Killing His Alter-Ego by Michelle Levigne

Killing His Alter-Ego Kindle coverAfter acting in his cousin’s film school project, Kyle is offered the starring role in the science-fiction TV series Bridger. Its overnight success forces him into the reluctant role of heartthrob. Raine is a high school sophomore when her TV writer mentor convinces her to write a script for Bridger. When she’s cast as her own female lead, Jess, she meets Kyle. Loving Bridger is easy, but immature Kyle breaks her heart. When the show ends, Kyle gladly leaves Hollywood to return to his family’s wilderness outfitting station in Colorado. Raine goes on to earn her veterinary degree.

Years later, they meet again. Wearing a beard and having dropped his stage name, Kyle manages to convince Raine he isn’t the jerk who shattered her last time. But their growing friendship is threatened when fandom pressure convinces the network to revive Bridger, with Raine and Kyle reprising their roles. The revelation of his minor deception pushes their relationship backwards again. As Kyle struggles to regain Raine’s trust, and maybe win her love, she struggles to see him for who he is–not as Bridger or the jerk he used to be. Then a new problem emerges. Someone doesn’t want the series to return to TV. They want it badly enough to threaten Raine, Kyle, and the whole production.

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GENRE: Contemporary Romance     ISBN: 978-1-925574-64-7     ASIN:  B07Z4851TM     Word Count: 110, 144

Blue Bar

Chapter One

 

Fourteen Years Ago

Colorado Springs

 

“You got a new script to read?” Raine Rilke let her backpack drop on the bench inside the front door of Gordon Masur’s cabin. Her other hand held the cotton grocery bag, heavy with this afternoon’s shopping trip.

Gordon, her family’s neighbor for the last twenty years, had fallen off the ladder while cleaning his gutters two weeks ago. What he insisted was only a sprain and “an old man’s clumsiness” got worse instead of better, until he gave in to the freshman girl’s insistence and let her parents examine him. He claimed he trusted the veterinarian Rilkes more than medical doctors. Amanda and Devon took one look at his leg and bundled him into their Jeep to head to the hospital. Prognosis: broken tibia. Instead of stopping over on Saturdays to talk about movies and books, now Raine stopped over every day after school, ran errands, and cooked for him.

Raine had been Gordon’s first reader and assistant researcher since sixth grade. She had four books he had dedicated to her, for her help and insight. Along with writing books set in alternate history, he was a consultant for several screenwriters. Raine enjoyed studying the differences between movies and their scripts. She thought she would like to write scripts someday. For fun.

“No.” Gordon shook his shaggy white-haired head and tossed her the sheaf of papers held together with brass wing clips. He chuckled when Raine let out a yelp and dashed forward, hands outstretched.

She caught the script and clutched it to her chest as she walked over to his easy chair to hand it back to him.

“I said no. It’s not for me. G.D. wants your opinion and input. He’s aiming at the younger generation with this one, especially since there’s a chance of it being a TV series.”

“Your friend wants to know what I think?” She narrowed her eyes at him. “It’s not another rip-off of ‘Little House’, is it?”

“Don’t you trust me?” He winked at her.

“Yeah, as far as I can throw you.” She wrinkled up her nose at him and turned around fast enough to make her blue plaid pleated uniform skirt flare out. “What is wrong with people who don’t care about details? The little stuff that just makes everything else fall apart. I mean–”

“Enough! I’m the one who taught you to be passionate about historical accuracy, little girl. Don’t teach your granny to suck eggs.” Gordon glared at her and she glared right back, both of them holding their breaths. He lost the glare-down and burst out laughing.

Raine stuck her tongue out at him again and turned to put the groceries away. She put the eggs and milk in the refrigerator, and then slid out of her red uniform blazer before tackling the messy tasks, filling his canisters of flour and loose leaf tea.

“What’s the TV show about?”

“Your favorite. Sci-fi. Taking a tried-and-true trope and putting it among aliens.”

Star Lost? Space 1999?” She tapped the lid on the flour to make sure it was sealed. “Blake’s Seven?”

The Fugitive.”

“Already been done. Logan’s Run. The Hulk.”

“Boy on an alien world.” Gordon chuckled. “Raised by aliens instead of wolves.”

“Hey, I loved Mowgli. I wanted my folks to move to India so I could look for him.” She rolled up the empty bags and put them aside. “So, does the story start–”

“Read it first, then tell me what you think. Tell me what doesn’t work, what you’d change if you could.”

“Yeah, like G. Don Menger would listen to a kid like me.”

“I do, and I like to think my friend is wise enough to listen to his target audience.”

Raine took the script home to read. Today was Friday, so she could come over to see Gordon in the morning once she finished her chores. She was responsible for feeding and watering the animals at Wild Wings Wildlife Sanctuary, cleaning cages, and exercising the animals nearly ready to be released back into the wild. This early in the spring, numbers were low, in both the injured animals and the tourists. Raine didn’t know who were bigger idiots, her arrogant classmates at Razor Ridge Academy or the tourists with their stupid questions and even more stupid attitudes toward wild animals. At least once a week, someone wanted to get into the pens with the animals. If there weren’t any tour groups, she wouldn’t be needed to help with crowd control–she preferred “jerk patrol”–and she could jump on her scooter and glide half a mile down the winding mountain road to Gordon’s.

*****

“Excuse me?” a woman called from the other side of the parking lot, just as Raine was taking a young condor to the flight pen Saturday morning. “Miss? Is it all right if we come closer?”

Raine turned to see an elegant-looking black couple standing by their car, with cameras hanging around their necks, long lenses sticking out the front and equipment bags hanging off their shoulders. The woman had her camera half-raised to her eyes. She looked a little awe-struck. Raine preferred awe-struck over arrogant people who gave her orders, and believed she didn’t know anything because she was in high school.

“Hi, Raine.” The new girl who had started school on Friday slid out of the back seat of the car.

“Hi–umm–” Raine raised the condor, about to explain that she couldn’t really stop and talk right now.

“Sam,” she filled in. Then Raine remembered. Samantha Sumati. “Is it okay if my folks take pictures of your bird?”

“Oh, he’s not mine. We’re just fixing him. Aren’t we, Greedo?” Raine stroked down the chest feathers. The young condor tipped his head back and raised his wings slightly. He liked when she did that, and willingly stayed put on her wrist while she carried him to the flight pen. Wild birds didn’t like the hoods, which made them restless.

“Is it all right?” Mrs. Sumati said, coming forward a few steps. “I didn’t think we’d get a chance to get so close. He’s gorgeous.”

“Actually he’s really heavy. How about if you take pictures after he gets his exercise? Then he’ll be tired and he won’t get so fidgety.” She continued walking across the gravel yard to the flight pen, three stories tall and one hundred feet in diameter, hung with wire mesh. “Besides, you don’t really want a picture of him with his hood on, do you?”

Both Sam’s parents laughed and agreed. They stayed a good dozen yards away until Rain had unlocked the gate into the pen, transferred the condor to the table, then stepped back and closed the pen. Her shoulders itched a little and she felt as twitchy as the condor, hearing the cameras clicking while both Sumatis shot pictures of her removing the hood and stepping back slowly to keep from startling him. He made a raspy sound deep in his chest and spread his wings, raising them three times and flexing to the full extent before leaping up. He half-glided, half-jumped to the nearest branch and perched there for several minutes, looking in all directions.

Raine waited until he flew a second time, taking a higher perch. Then she left the pen and made sure it was locked up securely. By that time, her parents had seen the car and came out to see what the camera-toting people wanted. As Raine’s mother explained after a pleasant hour of chatting, they had learned to be careful of people with cameras.

“That means that all the animal rights creeps keep sneaking around and damaging things and then taking pictures, to try to get us in trouble,” Raine explained to Sam, as the girls crossed the yard to bring the condor back in after his exercise period. “They want my folks to answer to them, so all the funding goes through them instead of straight to us. Doesn’t matter that we have a higher success rate, getting wild animals rehabilitated. We’re not part of the establishment.”

Sam laughed. “You sound like such a hippie.”

“Hmm, maybe.”

“Those jerks at school are the ‘establishment’, aren’t they?”

“Depends on which jerks you’re talking about.”

“Hey, I’ve only been here for two days, and if it wasn’t for the art program, I’d be screaming for my folks to get me out.” Sam stepped back as Raine pulled the keys out to unlock the gate for the pen. “I’m pretty sure it wasn’t just the new girl vibe making me feel like I’d walked onto a bad, off-Broadway production of Grease.”

“Yeah, well, it’s a college prep school and they try not to let your folks’ bank account influence what happens, but…” Raine shrugged and stepped into the pen.

“This has got to be the coolest place in the world to live,” Sam said half an hour later, after Raine had coaxed the condor down with a mouse lure, hooded him, and carried him back to the mews. “I bet all those jerks give you a hard time because they’re jealous, don’t they?”

Raine was feeling so good after Sam and her parents left, she nearly forgot about going to see Gordon. She and Sam were going to be good friends, she could tell. Something just clicked between the two of them. She nearly blurted the news that she had a new friend, when she sailed through Gordon’s door half an hour later.

Her ride down the road gave her time to shift mental gears back to the script that had filled her head all morning. She started by warning Gordon that his friend would think she was trying to take over his script.

“Why do you think he asked for your input? This is scary new territory. This series is for kids like you, not old farts like G.D. and me.” Gordon tapped his cast with his eagle-headed cane for emphasis.

Raine snorted and muttered about “old farts”. A moment later, they were laughing. Her basic notes occupied them through most of lunch. Sometimes, Raine thought building the foundations for books and scripts was even more fun than the finished story. She liked making up the rules and weaving together the background.

“You know they’re just going to use all sorts of hokey-doke special effects if you don’t specify what happens when Bridger or the aliens use their powers, right?”

He snorted and muttered, “hokey-doke”. Then he laughed. “What would you suggest? And what exactly do you mean by hokey-doke?”

“Taking too much time, and too much flash. I mean, honestly, remember when you made me watch your videotapes of Manimal? What use is it to change into the shape of an animal to get out of a jam when he has to sit and make like an obscene phone call for ten minutes and flex his muscles before anything happens? Remember when he was in a crate and got pushed into the ocean? By the time he went through the heavy breathing, he should have drowned, not turned into a dolphin. Is there like a film union rule or something about special effects? You have to spend so much of the show time on them?”

“A valid point. I don’t know how much control G.D. has, but you’re right. Detailing the special effects could protect the overall quality. What would you suggest instead of flashy lights and sound effects and such?”

“Make Bridger’s eyes change colors. When he can generate an electrical charge, his eyes turn one color. When he touches someone to heal them, his eyes are another color.”

Gordon nodded thoughtfully and made a note in the theme book lying open on the arm of the easy chair next to him. After that, she found it easier to share more ideas. To avoid wretched, unbelievable alien makeup, and fighting over what the aliens actually looked like: never show the aliens. Leave as much as possible to the imagination. Shadows could pass overhead, or an odd-looking eye could be glimpsed in the darkness, but never a hand or foot or tentacles.

“Make the audience use their imaginations, while saving on the special effects budget,” she said. “Suggestion is a lot more powerful than seeing it outright. Like in the shower scene in Psycho. Am I right?”

“I don’t know what your mother was thinking, letting you watch that movie,” he muttered.

Another suggestion: to simplify the story-telling process, have the aliens put Bridger, the only survivor of a doomed colony, into a cryo-sleep chamber. When colonists arrived years later, they would open it to find a grown man. Casting wouldn’t have to worry about finding a series of actors who looked enough alike the audience would believe they were the same boy, growing up.

They had fun tossing ideas back and forth for half the afternoon, covering all the problems Bridger would have dealing with the new colonists. He was still emotionally a little boy, but had an adult body. The alien psionic powers, and the knowledge the aliens had put into his head would complicate everything.

“Really, what do you think the chances are of this series selling?” she had to ask as she prepared to leave and go home for dinner.

“Sadly, it gets rougher every year. That’s why it pays to have a truly clever agent. All sorts of caveats and codicils in the contract, trying to tie up the creator’s rights, so it isn’t his property anymore.” He snorted, and reached for the notebook computer she brought over from his worktable. The notes he had taken while they brainstormed now had to be turned into a file to send by email to his friend and fellow writer. “Larry is a clever lad, always looking out for his old fart clients. He always insists on a rights reversion clause for G.D. If production stops on new episodes, after two years all rights and control are turned back over to G.D. They can’t make toys or lunch boxes or record albums based on anything from the TV show without his permission. That puts some much-needed protection and creative control back in the author’s hands.”


Thirteen years ago

Garrett’s Wilderness, Estes Park

 

Kyle Garrett trudged up the path from the canoe landing, wiping his sweating face on his tee-shirt. The late spring sun felt just heavy enough on his shoulders to mildly sting. A brown Jeep was just backing out of the turnaround area between the main office of the wilderness outfitting station. He slowed his steps and put his shirt back on, and watched his kid sister, Katie, step back from the Jeep. Just like he thought–Don Hampton had driven her home from school. Again. Just because the Hamptons were good friends and had attended the same church with the Garretts for the last three generations, that didn’t mean it was all right for college sophomore Don to spend so much time and attention on high school sophomore Katie. Kyle knew better than to ask about Don’s class schedule, but he could just bet that it wasn’t all that convenient for him to drive twenty miles to the high school to get Katie and bring her home, then return to campus.

“Oh, hey, red alert!” Katie called.

Great. She had seen him staring at her. Kyle knew he was being an idiot, but weren’t big brothers supposed to make idiots out of themselves while they protected their eight-years-younger little sisters?

“What’s that mean?” he asked, starting forward again. Don rolled down his side window and waved, then finished turning the Jeep.

“Jamie is up top.”

“Jamie?”

“Cousin Jamie. Mister big-time movie producer himself.” Katie made a frame out of her hands, then scrambled to catch her backpack as it slid off her shoulder. She laughed and waved to Don as he put the Jeep in gear and drove away. “Better be careful.”

“Of what?” Kyle let her lead the way up the slope, past the rental cabins and storage sheds for camping gear and canoes, following the gravel road when it branched to the right, to get to their house.

The Garrett family had run Garrett’s Wilderness for eight generations now, first serving the needs of hunters and surveyors and mountain men. Now they provided canoes for day-trippers, camping gear for overnight and longer trips, even guides and communication equipment. Hikers, canoers and horseback riding trips set out from the main location, with outposts manned by the many Garrett cousins, of several generations. Eighty years ago, Kyle’s grandfather and great-grandfather had taken a risk and bought up land through the mountains and along the river, giving them exclusive access to establish permanent stations to serve the needs of their customers, including clusters of cabins for rent. As the Garrett family had grown, so had the services offered and the locations they maintained.

Kyle’s father Troy was the oldest son of the oldest son, going back to Elwood Garrett, who had come out to Colorado as an orphan on a wagon train. Tradition put the head of the family and the business in the ancestral family home–which had been added to and modified through the generations. As the property increased, homes were built for the new generations. Kyle had the plans for his own cabin waiting. He had started designing it when he was still in college, getting his business administration degree. Somehow, he still hadn’t found the time to take the first step of picking out the site for his cabin.

“What’s up with Jamie now?” he asked, when Katie just waggled her eyebrows at him.

“Lights, camera, action.” She scooted off the path just before it connected with the flagstones leading up to the house.

Kyle groaned. He had been reluctant to act in their cousin’s film school graduation project last year, and now his fears seemed to be coming true. His own mother had warned him to be careful of the schemers and con men on the Hawkes side of the family–her family.

“No,” he announced just a few minutes later, stepping into the living room.

“No, what?” Jamie Hawkes said with a chuckle rippling his voice. “Kyle, this is Marvin Curtis, my agent. Marv, this is the man.”

“I thought he was a good fit on film, but…” The short, sharp-nosed man nodded, never taking his gaze off Kyle. “He’s perfect.”

“Shhhh. Don’t let him hear you. He’s already a white knight.” Jamie winked at Kyle. “Well, come on in, Cuz. We’ve got big news.” He was a bear of a man, big in voice and body, with shaggy brown hair and a laugh always ready to burst out and shake the foundations.

“Like I said before, no. I’m not going to be in another of your wacko-psycho art deco films. It took me a week to get all the crap out of my hair and my ears from the last one.” Kyle sighed inwardly and settled down on the hassock facing the sofa where Jamie and Marvin sat.

“You know who G. Don Menger is?” Marvin didn’t seem upset when Kyle shook his head. “You saw the pilot for Firebird last year?”

“Yeah, it was kind of fun. They totally slaughtered it when they turned it into a TV show. Should have just left it as a movie.”

“See?” Jamie leaned back in the couch. “He’s got the eye. That’s the big problem with Hollywood. You start with a really great concept, and maybe you luck out and the producer and director hit the nail on the head with the pilot. Then the network execs get their hands on it and the new production team twists everything around.”

“What does that have to do with me?” Kyle said. “If you’re trying to confuse me until I agree to whatever you’re up to, forget it.”

“No confusion,” Marvin said. “G. Don Menger has written a pilot for another show. Jamie is in the production team, and he’s lobbying for you to at least audition. It’ll be a month of filming, max. You get another good credit on your resume–”

“I don’t have a resume.”

“Hate to disappoint you, Cuz, but that freaky little student film I did is getting major recognition. We’re talking THX-1138 chapter two.” Jamie rubbed his hands together. “Come on, what’ll it hurt?”

“Jamie–”

“All we’re asking you to do is audition,” Marvin said.

“What’s in it for you?”

“Well…” He grinned, nailing Kyle’s grudging impression that Marvin was a likeable guy despite being his cousin’s agent. “I get some kudos from the agency for discovering you. If you get the role.”

“Come on, what are the chances it’ll go past the pilot movie?” Jamie said. “You had fun doing the movie with me, didn’t you?”

Kyle hated to admit it, but yes, he had a lot of fun. He had even joined a community theater group, because he discovered he kind of liked acting. If Jamie found out he was acting, even just on the amateur level, he would never give up. Maybe if Kyle cooperated, he wouldn’t push and dig and look for fodder for blackmail, like he usually did. Why did he consider Jamie his favorite cousin, anyway?

“Okay, what does it take to audition? I don’t have to go to LA, do I?”

“Nope.” Jamie reached over the side of the sofa and picked up a bulky video camera.

Kyle winced, knowing he was caught.

A month later, he finally managed to forget he had done the audition, then Marvin called to let him know he had made the short list. The production company wanted to fly him out to Wyoming for the next step. Kyle wanted to back out, but there was an implied contract to follow through on the casting process, just by auditioning.

Jamie was so sure Kyle was going to get the role of Bridger, the sole survivor of a failed colony on an alien world, he was hyper. He somehow got Kyle excited about the whole proposition, so when the offer came, Kyle accepted the role without thinking.

The second thoughts struck between hanging up the phone and heading back outside to the family picnic; aunts, uncles, cousins and their significant others. His father depended on him to handle much of the office work. He had lots of chores to help run the outfitting station, multiple tasks to take care of, depending on the day of the week. How could he just head for the West Coast to make a movie?

Sure, it might only take a month out of his life, but what if the pilot movie was a success and the network picked up the option to turn it into a TV show? Sure, it might flop, getting canceled halfway through the first season. That was especially true of shows that had some sort of fantasy or science fiction aspect. Still, what if…

Troy seemed to pick up on Kyle’s thoughts before he had them clear in his own head. After everybody finished congratulating him and went back to swimming and volleyball and horseshoes and the water bomb war, father took son off to the side to talk.

“Hate to break it to you, son, but we’re not going to implode if you follow your dreams for a little while, have some fun, try some new things. Yeah, we depend on you, but we’re all used to covering a lot of different jobs. Go have some fun, figure out what you really want to do with your life.”

“That’s the thing, Dad.” Kyle settled at the picnic table. “This is what I want to do. Keep working here.”

“How do you know if you haven’t tried anything else?”

“Just because you’re a Garrett doesn’t mean you’re bound to this place for the rest of your life,” Kathryn, his mother added, joining their conversation. “You’ve got some Hawkes blood in there somewhere. Better figure out what wild and crazy tendencies you have, so they don’t get you in trouble later.”

Kyle took her advice far enough to make Hawkes his stage name. If everything bombed, he could come home and pray nobody he knew actually saw the movie, so he could just forget about it and stay in the woods for the rest of his life.

That wasn’t his destiny, he supposed, when Marvin called two weeks before the pilot movie aired in February. His agent was delighted to inform him that the network executives were so pleased with the pilot movie for Bridger, they were picking up the series, to begin in the fall.

“Go have fun,” Troy told him, when he broke the news. “Who knows where this show will take you, the people you’ll meet, the things you’ll learn? Especially about yourself.”


Twelve years ago

Colorado Springs

 

“What did you think?” Gordon asked, as Raine slipped through his door, shoved by gusts of snowy wind, the afternoon after Bridger aired on network TV. No need for him to clarify what he meant.

“Pretty good.”

“Just pretty good?” He chuckled and caught up the afghan on the couch next to his easy chair with the end of his cane. With a practiced whisk, he flung it out of the way while Raine peeled out of her parka and double layers of gloves and scarves. “Tell me what you really think?”

“They left some of the stupid stuff in, just like your friend said they would. How come writers don’t have any control over what the TV people do to their scripts?” She huffed and stomped over to the couch, pausing in front of the fireplace with its pile of ruby coals to rub her hands in the gush of heat.

“Nature of the beast, my dear.” The timer on his microwave pinged and he gestured with the cane. “Your mother thought you might get stuck here, if the snow picked up once you left school. Stay for dinner and they’ll pick you up on their way back from the airport.”

“If they can even land in this weather,” Raine said with a shrug. Her nose told her Gordon had prepared cheese and salsa dip and taquitos, and a pot of hot spiced cider waited in the Crock Pot.

“What did your friends think of the movie?” he asked as she put the tray full of their snack on the coffee table in front of him.

“I don’t think any of the creeps bothered watching it all the way through. They were laughing about it at lunch.”

“What did they say when you told them you had been a consultant on the script?”

“Like they’d believe me?” She grinned, shivering a little at the memory of seeing her name far down in the credits. She hadn’t expected to be paid for the work she did, and given screen credit. The check was trade minimum, but for a high school sophomore it was huge. She gave half to her parents to help with Wild Wings, against their protests, and put the rest aside to save up for a new computer.

“You didn’t tell anyone?”

“Sam. But she knew already.” Raine had braced all day for some kind of comment. No one would believe she had been involved in a TV pilot, so they would make a joke of her having the same name as a story consultant. The total silence from her classmates meant no one had watched the movie all the way through the credits. Gordon had taught her to do that. Maybe they changed the channel once the final scene faded from the screen.

Did it really matter? Sam loved the whole idea of Bridger. She had nearly gotten them in trouble in two classes, whispering about all the scenes she loved and the chases and how Bridger got the best of the colony security goons. She had done sketches of several scenes on scraps of paper, and substituted the faces of some of their classmates for the bozos who chased Bridger through the forest and got ambushed by the shapechanger aliens disguised as animals.

Raine decided to use some of her money to buy art supplies for Sam. She had a great future as a cartoonist or satirist, no matter what the jerks in their class said about her. Grinning, she pulled out her notebook, to show Gordon a sketch of Bridger poised on the edge of a cliff. Sam had done it in art class, in just the forty-five minutes allotted. Their teacher, Mrs. McGuinness had been so impressed, she had showed it to everyone. That just proved none of their classmates had seen the movie, because nobody reacted or said anything to Sam.

Gordon admired it greatly, so Raine felt a little guilty asking if he would send it to G. Don Menger. Sam had made it as a gift for him. She almost wished she hadn’t promised she would pass it on, and offered to ask Sam to make another for him to keep.

“No, my dear, this is something that should be one of a kind,” Gordon said. “G.D. will be delighted and touched at this wonderful tribute.” He sighed, and his smile faded slightly. “Yes, we do like some evidence that our work has touched someone.”

He cheered up in just a few moments. They spent the evening discussing and dissecting the movie, analyzing what they liked and didn’t like about the changes between script and screen. Raine enjoyed learning more about the whole Hollywood process, even if she disliked the almost obsessive need to change things, just to get each contributor’s fingerprints on the project. She told Gordon several ideas she had for stories. The people Bridger would meet on his quest to stay free from the authorities, make contact with the aliens, and keep the colony from harming the planet’s ecology. For an exercise, Gordon had her write down her ideas, presenting them as proposals for the production company. Raine thought it was fun, even if it was a waste of time. She could pretend, just for a little while, that she was part of the series’ writing team.

A week later, Gordon gave her another assignment: come up with outlines for several stories about one character she had created, a colonist girl named Jess. Raine squirmed a little, but didn’t tell Gordon why. Jess was hers. More accurately, Jess was her. She loved playing with Bridger’s world in her imagination. When she walked through the forest around Wild Wings, she scouted places for Bridger to hide from colony security. She dreamed up entire conversations between Jess and Bridger.

Sam thought the assignment was great fun, especially when Raine bounced ideas off her. She drew pictures of Jess and Bridger on their first adventure, and made Jess look like Raine, but older and tougher.

Raine took extra care not to mention Sam or her drawings, when she met with Gordon to go over her writing assignment. She prepared her proposed storylines per industry standards, the action outlined in a teaser, three acts, and a tag. After she turned in her assignment, she was mortified to learn that G. Don Menger would go through them. Why the creator of Bridger needed to see her ideas for a show that might not make it past production of the first half-season, Raine had no idea.

“Oh, yes, he liked them very much. All the ideas. You’ve got a good grasp of the whole process, and your sense of dramatic timing is nearly spot-on.” Gordon’s smile widened and he tipped his head to one side, eyes narrowing. “What in the world is bothering you? You look like you’re expecting a safe to drop on you from ten stories up.”

“Gordon, you are up to something just awful.” Raine settled down on the couch and swung her stocking feet up on the coffee table. “What kind of trouble are you in?”

“None at all. I just have one question for you, Mi’lady Shakespeare.”

“Uh oh,” she muttered, earning a bark of laughter from him.

“Which would you prefer? The fee and screen credit for coming up with the story, or the fee and screen credit for writing the script?”

“Writing…” Raine almost drew her legs back, to fold up into a fetal position sitting upright.

“Writing it is.”

“Gordon!” She could only stare, heart thudding, as Gordon tipped his head back and laughed. Somehow, Raine found herself laughing with him.

Don Menger had showed her story proposals to the producer, fibbing a little that Larry Pondsby, his agent, was her agent. The producer was familiar with Raine’s name, thanks to her credit as consultant on the pilot movie. They were looking for scripts and wanted to have at least the first half of the season settled before they started shooting. If Raine could turn in the first script within two weeks, they were willing to option the other Jess story proposals.

“That was really nice of your agent to act like I was a client,” Raine said, reading through the cover letter with the proposed contract. Larry was both Gordon’s and G. Don Menger’s agent, which made things easier when the two men collaborated.

“Nice?” Gordon snorted, then shut the refrigerator door for emphasis. He had worked on a celebration snack for them while Raine read through the contract and instructions and the cover letters from Larry and the production company. “He knows what’s good for him, and that means protecting my favorite pupil at the very start of her career.”

“Career.” She shivered a little.

“Think you can do it?”

“Won’t know until I try, will I?” Raine tried to smile. At the very least, the production company wanted her first Jess story, and she would get paid even if someone else wrote the script. The funny thing was, after all the hard work she had put into creating Jess, she didn’t want to let anyone else touch her creation. Her alter-ego, in some ways.

In the space of two weeks, she did four drafts of the script, with Gordon watching over her shoulder. He printed it up on the pre-punched paper and bound it for her and sent it special delivery to Larry, who was waiting to hand-deliver the script to the production company. Then Raine tried to do as Gordon advised: go back to her normal life and forget about the script waiting to be read and analyzed and criticized and shredded.

She did a better job trying to forget than she intended, because when Gordon called her on Wednesday afternoon, just a little more than a week later and told her that her script had been accepted, her first reaction was, “What script?” Sam hadn’t forgotten, because when Raine called her more than an hour later to tell her, she screamed loud enough they both swore Raine heard her without the telephone.

At spring break, Raine, her mother, Amanda, and Gordon flew to Los Angeles. Gordon had meetings with several people relating to turning one of his books into a graphic novel series, and left the Rilkes in the very capable hands of his agent, now Raine’s agent. They had a two-hour drive to the production company for the script conference. The small town perched on the edge of the national forest also served as the production company’s headquarters and the location for shooting most of the first season of Bridger.