(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores May 2021.)
Los Angeles, California 1931
Roy Lester's mansion was as ritzy a place as I'd ever seen. I had to pinch myself to make sure I was really there—me, Minerva Sinclaire—at one of the most glamorous parties in Hollywood. This was the moment I'd been waiting for. The part of the story right before the happy ending.
At least that's what I thought at the time.
When the towering mahogany doors swung open, it was like stepping into The Hollywood Revue. The high-ceilinged great room sparkled, lit by a chandelier as bright as any studio set. Women in jewel-toned silk took their places with men in midnight-blue evening jackets, all in glorious Technicolor. In the center of the room, a grand piano provided the score, accompanied by the swell of conversation and the clink of ice against glasses. Toward the back of the room, a champagne cork popped, and a woman shrieked a laugh. I half expected to see a cameraman on a moving platform or hear a director with a megaphone call, "Cut!"
Max joined me at the top of three marble steps that led down into the room filled with music and color. "Mark my words, Mina. This is a mistake."
Max had been grousing since he picked me up at my boarding-house an hour ago. "You're still my agent," I'd told him on the telephone, "and a girl can't show up at the door alone." With how things were between us, I couldn't tell him the truth that I needed him beside me. The thing that had happened between us over a month ago—what I called the New Year's Day Incident—had been a mistake and best forgotten. If only Max were more forgetful. But if Max wanted his 20 percent of the contract I was signing tomorrow, he'd help me out tonight.
Earlier, he'd helped me into his lemon-yellow LaSalle roadster like we were on our way to San Quentin instead of the gladdest party in Los Angeles. He drove into the hills like a madman—as if driving faster could get the party over with. He twitched a cigarette in one hand as we chased the half moon, headlights dancing ahead of us, the roadster spitting gravel behind. When we pulled through the gated entrance to Roy Lester's place, it was too unbelievable. Like one of those English estates had dropped out of the sky and onto the brown foothills of the Santa Monica mountains.
Max threw the stub of his smoke out the window and shifted to low gear on the smooth, winding driveway. He stopped sulking long enough to tell me about the place. "Twenty bedrooms, a theater that seats thirty, and a walk-in fur vault. There's a formal English rose garden and greenhouses, and behind there—" he motioned past an unnaturally perfect lake lit by an illuminated fountain—"is a maze you could get lost in for days."
We sped past sculpted box hedges, giant rabbits, and teapots casting moon shadows on a vast manicured lawn. Sodium lights blazed over two red-clay tennis courts.
"Your friend Roy has a cellar filled with real whisky and gin—the good stuff from Scotland and England. And champagne imported from France. He's got a switch upstairs that locks it up tight if the feds come calling." Max snorted. "As if the law would raid Roy Lester's little haven. They're paid off too well for that."
Max's glum take was starting to rub me the wrong way. "Since when is bankroll and booze a problem for you?" In the four months I'd known Max, he'd never taken offense at other people's cash—or turned down their liquor.
I watched his profile as he maneuvered the roadster around the circular driveway and came to a rolling stop. His scowl really did mar that handsome face. His hair was neatly combed back and his black fedora set at an angle. A dark lock curled over his forehead, giving him a touch of boyish charm, which he used plenty well. He had a jaw worthy of any leading man and a nose with a hint of a crook, as if he'd broken it years ago. His amber eyes, with lashes that would make Greta Garbo jealous, were guarded as he turned to me. "I don't like Roy Lester."
Max played his cards close, and usually I let him keep his secrets, but this time I pushed. "Then how do you know so much about him?" I waved a hand. "And about his place?"
"I just do." The roadster sputtered and went silent. "Be careful with these people, you got me?"
I got him, all right. What was good for the gander and all that applesauce. But my time was running out. I'd learned plenty in the ten months I'd been in Hollywood—to dance, to act, to pretend I fit in. I'd even learned to drink bootlegged whisky—not legally, of course, but nobody cared about that. And I'd learned to take my breaks where I found them—with or without Max's blessing.