“Okay, enough. All this teasing is giving me a headache.” Kitty McClarren yanked her head away from Juan’s comb.
Juan cocked a hand on his bony hip. “Honey, I was told lots of volume. They want these pics to look like Barbarella, and Barbarella never had no flat-ass hair.”
“Well, if you don’t go easy, you’re not going to have any hair left to tease, since it’ll all be on the floor. It’s dryer than a bone these days.” Kitty wasn’t normally so ornery, but she hadn’t slept well the previous night. Four hours, max. She just wasn’t in the mood to be primped and plucked and stand in front of a camera all day, even if it was for Italian Face. Big deal, she thought; she had been on their cover twice, once in 2008 and another time in 2010. A six page layout wasn’t anything to cream her jeans over. Not that she was creaming her jeans over much of anything, as of late. For the last four months, her sex life had been as active as a quadriplegic on life support. Maybe that’s my problem. What I really need is to get laid.
“A little keratin and you’ll be good as new.” Juan resumed teasing her golden brown strands. “Not much more to do, anyway.”
Wayne Marsh approached her. “My gorgeous Kitty cat, you need something to drink? Tea, coffee, champagne…?” He rubbed his hands together, anxious to fetch something–anything–for the olive skinned stunner. Regardless of the dozen or so times they had worked together, Wayne had always been slightly intimidated of Kitty, as though she were a sophisticated, out-of-reach high school senior and he the infantile freshman.
“I’m good, thanks. Actually, I’ll take an Altoid.”
Wayne dumped the tin in Kitty’s hand. “So, you’ll never guess who I ran into yesterday.”
“Olivia,” Wayne said with a grin.
“Olivia Vitolli?” Kitty said. “Ha. I miss that girl. What’s she up to?”
“Throwing a birthday party for her brother, Bobby, tomorrow night. She and her husband just bought a place overlooking Central Park. Says we should both come.”
“Ooh, that boy’s dangerous,” breathed Juan. “Bobby Vitolli is a shady fuck, a gangster–or so I’ve heard. Hot but shady.”
“People love to talk,” Kitty said. “Just because he’s Italian and wears nice suits, people automatically say he’s a gangster. It’s so stupid. I met him three months ago at Olivia’s wedding, and he made an impression, that’s for sure. Bobby’s definitely…intriguing.”
Juan giggled. “Oh, as I said, he’s definitely hot, honey. No question about that. Tall, dark, and handsome.”
“Well, what do ya say? Should I text her you’re coming, then?” asked Wayne.
Kitty sighed. “I’m supposed to go to a friend’s gallery opening–well, not really a friend-friend, more of an acquaintance. Even though I’m sure Olivia’s party will be more fun.”
Wayne popped an Altoid in his mouth. “Can’t be everywhere at once.”
Kitty bit her lower lip, in thought. “Or I could go with Clariss–”
“You can go to a gallery opening any day,” said Juan while pinning a section of her hair up. “But you can’t always find a six foot piece with muscles and a full head of hair waiting at an Upper East Side palace. Even if he is shady.”
Kitty rolled her eyes. But Juan did have a point….
“You look fabulous,” Kitty murmured to her reflection in the vanity. The juicy tomato shade she had just slicked on her naturally puffy pout made her feel sassy. Party time! she said to herself. What time was it, anyway? She glanced down at her Ballon Bleu. Nine o’clock. Wayne would be picking her up any min–
Bzzz bzzz went her doorbell.
Speaking of the devil, she said to herself. She whipped her front door open.
“Hey, gorgeous,” Wayne said. He was dressed in a simple suit and while he looked dapper, his black necktie was askew and painfully tight looking.
“Hey, there, yourself.” Kitty adjusted his tie. “There, now you’re golden. Okay, you ready to hit this party?”
A half hour of traffic later, the two friends arrived at 360 East 88th Street. Olivia Vitolli Hanley fluttered around her condo in sky high heels, attending to her many guests. She threw her arms in the air upon seeing Kitty.
“Oh, my God. Kitty McClarren!” Olivia flung her arms around Kitty’s neck. “Am I glad to see you. It’s been….how long has it been?”
“Since your wedding,” Kitty smiled.
“That’s right! Seems longer than a few months, doesn’t it?” Olivia pushed a stray brunette lock out of her face. “You look hot, per usual. And you look thirsty. Here–” She grabbed a glass of wine off a nearby tray and shoved it in Kitty’s hand. “–Drink up. And Wayne, you still a whiskey man?”
“Old habits die hard,” Wayne said.
“Yeah, don’t I know it,” Olivia laughed. “With a splash of water, right?”
“Right. I’ll give me you a hand…” Wayne followed Olivia into the kitchen.
Kitty looked around the spacious digs. Olivia certainly knew how to pick ‘em; the view overlooking the park was incredible. I need to find my own Hugh Hanley, Kitty thought. Maybe Hugh has a single brother….
“Scuse me. This your scarf?”
Kitty turned around. A tall, sculpted man stared at her with a cashmere scarf in hand. Bobby Vitolli. She recognized that handsome face.
“Thanks,” said Kitty. “I must have dropped it.”
“I met you before. Kitty, right? You and my sister modeled together.”
“Mmm-hmm. You’re Bobby, if I remember correctly.”
“Guilty as charged.” He scaled her body. “Nice dress. You got good taste. Givenchy?”
Kitty’s eyes widened; she wasn’t used to straight men recognizing designer pieces. “Yeah. And you have a good eye.”
“I try. Hey, you got the time? Olivia’s got an allergy to clocks and I left my phone in the car.”
“Not even ten o’clock yet. Got a date or something?”
“Not a date, really. Gotta be some place in an hour.”
Kitty raised her brows. “But isn’t this party in your honor?”
“Technically, my birthday isn’t till Sunday, which is when I’m having an official get together–just family and a few friends. Olivia knows I got a place to be, though, and insisted on throwing a little shindig anyway. She loves any excuse to entertain, trust me. So what do you got going on later?”
“Umm, I don’t know. Maybe just go home,” Kitty said as a willowy blonde approached.
“Hey, Bobby,” said the blonde. She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Happy birthday.”
Bobby smiled. “Thanks, babe.”
“Call me soon? It would be so great to catch up and have a drink or something. You know, just one on one.” Jen blinked her eyes slowly before sauntering off.
“Wow, she’s subtle,” Kitty cracked. She wondered how often Bobby got hit on and guessed it was a daily occurrence.
Bobby laughed. “Jen’s alright. I haven’t seen her in awhile, but she’s never dull. So why don’t you join me, Kitty? I’m going to a lounge my friend owns. Deuces. You heard of it?”
Kitty sipped her Merlot. “Of course I have. It’s only one of Manhattan’s hottest new clubs.”
Bobby took a step closer. His eyes bore deep into hers. “So you in?”
Kitty felt her cheeks grow red. Why am I blushing? “Okay, sure.”
“I like your attitude. Goes great with that sexy dress of yours.”
“You’re not so shabby yourself,” she purred.
“Hmm.” Bobby’s blue eyes flickered. “What do you say we bale early?”
“Problem with that?”
“No, but…I mean, it would be rude to just leave–”
“Says who?” Bobby buttoned his sports coat. “Everyone’s having a good time, drinking, socializing. Besides, they probably won’t even notice. Let’s go.”
“Okay.” Kitty set her glass down and followed him out. She found it difficult to refuse Signor Vitolli.
They hopped in his Ferrari and zoomed to Deuces, a ten minute car ride away. The night was young and the club was far from packed.
“Vitolli, what’s happenin’?” A rotund man stepped out of a corner booth.
“Hey, Pauly. This is Kitty,” Bobby said. “Kitty, meet my buddy, Paul.”
Paul smiled warmly. “Pleasure, Kitty. Please, get comfortable and order yourself a drink. Bobby and I got a little business to attend to in my office.”
“I’ll be out in a few, Kitty,” Bobby said with a wink. He and Paul disappeared.
Kitty plopped down in a sleek leather booth and admired her surroundings. Deuces was gorgeous, with intimate lighting and posh furnishings. But a glass of Veuve later and still no sign of Bobby. What is he doing? He invites me to a place and then disappears–
Kitty jumped. What the hell was that? she said to herself. It sounded like a gun shot. It definitely wasn’t the music pumping in the background.
“Ahhh!” came a man’s muffled scream.
Kitty looked around but couldn’t see where the racket was coming from. Neither the staff nor patrons seemed to notice anything was amiss. And yet she was positive she had just heard someone get shot.
“Hey, there.” Bobby had returned and slid next to her in the booth. “Sorry about that. You okay? You look a little pale.”
“Yeah,” Kitty said absently.
Bobby peeled off his coat. His biceps were apparent even under his tailored button-down. “What do you say we order a bite. I’m famished and this place has got the best Kobe beef.” He touched Kitty’s knee.
Kitty swallowed hard. She had an uneasy feeling in the pit of her tummy. And yet there was Bobby, dapper and delicious as ever, looking cool as a cucumber…
“Bobby,” Kitty said. “What happened? I’m pretty sure I heard–”
Another gunshot, much louder than the first. Two women in a nearby booth screeched.
Bobby pulled a gun out from behind his back and jumped to his feet. “Kitty, get outta here.”
“What the hell is going on?” Kitty gasped.
“Get the fuck outta here. I’m sorry but you shouldn’t be here.” He grabbed a wad of cash from his pocket and shoved it in her palm before darting off.
Deuces was in pandemonium; people were screaming and scrambling for the door. Some had even dove to the floor for cover. Kitty pushed her way through the crowd and stumbled outside.
“Kitty, over here!” yelled a paparazzo standing curbside. He snapped her picture again. “What’s goin’ on in there? Someone said a gun went off!”
“Kitty, you look hot!” shouted another. “So are you and Bobby Vitolli an item? I saw you guys come in together.”
Sirens blazed in the distance. The NYPD was not far off.
Shit! I have to get out of here ASAP. “You guys are crazy, always looking for a story,” Kitty told the paparazzi and tried to give an easy smile. Her knees felt gummy. She attempted to remain steady in her stilettos as she walked away.
“Kitty, come back! We won’t bite!” Snap!
Kitty jumped in a nearby taxi and drove to her sister’s brownstone.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” Celeste said when she saw a pale-as-a-sheet Kitty standing at her door. “Come in, you’re shaking.”
“Celeste, this has been one jacked up night.” Kitty recounted her tale while sipping a cup of hot tea Celeste had prepared.
“Your life is never dull,” Celeste said with a shake of her blonde head. “Obviously, you need to stay away from this Bobby character.”
“He’s exciting, though, Celeste,” Kitty breathed. “So mysterious and handsome. I know I haven’t spent much time with him yet, but, I don’t know…He’s a man man and we have this connection…Honestly, I feel safe when I’m with him.”
Celeste sat up straight on her chintz sofa. “Kitty, are you nuts? The guy’s packing for a night on the town and takes you to a place where a gun goes off! Oh, wait–let me rephrase that. The guy packs for an evening at his sister’s then takes you to a club where a gun goes off. Twice.”
“Maybe he had good reason to carry a gun, did you ever think of that, Celeste?” Kitty said with arms crossed.
Celeste guffawed. “You really need to get out of modeling, Kitty, it’s stripping your common sense. There’s nothing normal about what happened tonight. Bobby Vitolli is a known mobster.”
“So the story goes,” Kitty said sharply. She hated it when her sister talked down to her as though she were a child. “It’s just a rumor, Celeste. The guy has no criminal record.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I looked him up,” Kitty spat. “I read in a magazine the other day that I only eat celery for dinner. I mean, really? Do you always believe everything you hear?”
“You can still be a mobster without a criminal record, Kitty, come on. What kind of person runs around Manhattan with a gun? Think about it.” Celeste poured more tea but Kitty put her hand over her cup.
“No more for me, otherwise I’ll never be able to sleep,” Kitty said with a yawn.
“Why don’t you stay in the guest room tonight, sis. The kids may be a little loud in the morning, but you’re more than welcome to stay. I really don’t want you to be alone.” Celeste frowned. “I’m worried about you.”
Kitty patted her sister’s knee. “Don’t be. I’m a big girl. I can take care of myself and have been since I was eighteen. But I am a little sleepy, so I think I will crash here.”
Kitty was sound asleep a half hour later.
The next morning, she woke to an empty house. Frederick must have left for work and Celeste was probably dropping Lilly and Luca off at day care, Kitty thought. She walked in the living room and turned on the news. What was being broadcast jolted Kitty wide awake.
“Last night, around 11 PM,” began the reporter…..
“…Police were called to Manhattan hot spot, Deuces, after several shots were fired. Authorities discovered the body of a fifty-something unidentified white male in the nightclub. The club’s owner, reported underworld crime boss, Paul Mazzarini, has since been arrested for murder. One of the club-goers, supermodel, Kitty McClarren, was captured by paparazzi exiting the club. Authorities have not stated what role, if any, McClarren played in the crime.”
Kitty’s eyes grew large as pizza pans as she watched the video footage from the previous evening; she appeared nervous, with a deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression. At least I look good, she thought, while admiring her bouncy locks on TV. But how embarrassing! Getting mixed up in such a violent, unsavory incident wasn’t exactly high on her list of things to do. She had always prided herself on being one of the few supermodels who had managed to avoid scandal, yet there she was, on Channel 7 news, in connection with murder. Such an awful way to start the day.
She took a taxi home and cleaned herself up.
Kitty answered her Smartphone.
“Kitty!” The voice on the other line, though female, was gravelly and deep.
“Hi, Clarissa,” Kitty said to her agent. “What’s new?”
“I just saw you on the news,” barked Clarissa. “What the fuck is all this about?”
Kitty sighed. “It’s not really as big a deal as you think, Clarissa.”
“Well, maybe not to you, but the VP of Trixie just called me. He saw you on the news and is none too happy.” Trixie was a national makeup line catering to teenage girls; Kitty had been their spokesmodel since the summer.
“Clarissa, chill, will you? Listen, I didn’t do anything. I don’t even know what happened, I just–”
“Don’t associate with trash, Kitty. Just don’t. Trixie is a multi-million dollar contract and I don’t want anything mucking it up. Shit, my other line is ringing, gotta go.”
Kitty rolled her eyes. What a buzz kill, that Clarissa. A text came through just as she set her phone down.
Hey, it’s Bobby. So sorry about last night. Let me take you out to dinner and make it up to you. Hakkasan at 8 PM?
Kitty smiled and texted back: It’s on.
“Thanks for making it on such short notice,” Bobby grinned. He looked her up and down and nodded appreciatively. “Aren’t you a dish. Per usual.”
“Why, thank you,” cooed Kitty. She draped her napkin across her lap. “But if I had any sense at all, I wouldn’t have come.”
“Yeah? Why not?”
“Because you’re trouble, that’s why. I know it and you know it.”
“Then why did you bother coming if I’m so bad for you?”
“You know girls are attracted to a little mystery. And I guess I’m a attracted to trouble.”
“You’ve got a wild streak in you. One of the many things I like about you.” Bobby sipped his extra dry martini. “You try to bury it but it’s pretty obvious. So about last night…look, I can’t go into it, but my sincerest apologies for dragging you into that mess.”
“What happened? I heard on the news that Paul Mazzarini was arrested for murder,” Kitty said.
“Yeah, Pauly’s in some trouble, but like I said, it’s nothing I can discuss. Can’t talk about any of it, I only brought it up to say I’m sorry and hope you give me another shot.”
“Yeah, well, here we are. Second shot.”
“Second shot,” repeated Bobby. He stared at Kitty with such intensity, she could feel herself once again blushing.
This boy has me a mess! She anxiously slugged her Perrier Jouet.
Two hours later, they found themselves at Bobby’s Upper East Side high rise. Feeling warm and frisky from the champagne, Kitty didn’t resist his advances. In no time, they found themselves in bed.
“That was incredible,” Kitty breathed afterward.
“You’re incredible.” Bobby lightly ran his hands against her naked flesh. “I wish I could see you again tomorrow.”
“Who says you can’t?” Kitty said. “I have a shoot at noon but I’m free at night.”
“Gotta go out of town tomorrow, unfortunately,” he said. “Business.”
“Too bad. What kind of business?”
Bobby’s serious expression made Kitty decide not to press the subject. And she felt far too euphoric to bother with details.
“I’m gonna have to miss the birthday celebration my mother is throwing, which kills me,” continued Bobby, “but I have no choice. Gotta get out of town. Not sure when I’ll be back but I definitely want to see you again soon–real soon. Kitty…”
“You’re different…you’re special, you know that? I can trust you. I knew that immediately.”
“You can definitely trust me.” She added with a smile, “Can I trust you?”
“Hey, who do you think you’re talking to? Of course you can trust me.” He gave her a lingering kiss. “I need you to do me a favor.”
“Sure, what is it?”
Bobby grabbed a manila envelope off the nightstand. “I need you to drop this off for me.”
“I can’t go into details, it’s confidential. No hard feelings if you don’t want to but I could use your help. Can you drop this off with a friend of mine tomorrow? Upper West Side.”
Kitty stared at the over-stuffed envelope and carefully considered the question.
Kitty glanced down at the manila envelope snuggled in her lap. She had taken a taxi to the address Bobby had given her; 323 West 74th Street. But she was having last minute reservations and questioning her judgment. Maybe I shouldn’t do this after all, she thought.
“Lady, you gettin’ out or what?” barked the cabbie.
“Yeah, keep the meter running,” Kitty said. She pushed her negative thoughts to the back of her mind. What’s the big deal anyway? It’s just a favor for a friend. A really handsome, sexy friend.
She made her way to the door and knocked.
A short, wiry man opened the door. His beady eyes looked Kitty over.
“I am,” she said. She wondered who the tiny man was. Bobby hadn’t told her his acquaintance’s name; he had only written down the address. From first impressions alone, the man was not anyone Kitty would care to associate with. His sour facial expression and pallid skin lent a sinister vibe.
“I hear you got somethin’ for me,” the man said, and pointed to the envelope in her hand.
“I do.” Kitty handed over the package. “And you are?”
The man cracked a smile. “I’m Don’t-You-Worry-About-It-Sweetheart,” he said with a wink. “I gotta make this brief ’cause I’m runnin’ late for an appointment. Thanks, doll.”
He slammed the door shut.
Kitty grimaced. Wow, a real charmer. From the looks of the man’s greasy black hair, it had been weeks since he had last seen a bar of soap. Definitely no one she would expect to be seen with the always-dapper Bobby Vitolli.
Night had fallen. Between her photo shoot earlier and Bobby keeping her up until four in the morning, Kitty was beat. She instructed the cabbie to take her home.
“One of us has got an admirer,” said the driver after a few minutes. “That brown sedan has been following us the last ten blocks.”
Kitty turned around to look at the car in question. The headlights blinded her and she couldn’t make out a mug. “You sure?”
“Am I sure? How long you think I been drivin’? Longer than you’ve been around, believe you me, and I’m pretty damned sure when someone is tailin’ me.”
“Maybe it’s just a coincidence,” Kitty said. But five minutes later, the same brown sedan was still behind them. Her heart skipped a beat. What was going on? Why on earth would somebody be trailing her, Kitty McClarren, of all people? The answer dawned on her: the paparazzi. Yes, those pesky bastards were spying on her, hoping to steal a shot to sell to the tabloids! Surely, it was the only logical explanation. Kitty’s nostrils flared. How dare they! Her eyes, normally a serene shade of green, morphed into an intense emerald hue, as was the norm whenever she became irate.
“Step on it,” she screamed at the cabbie. “Do whatever you can to lose him.”
The taxi made a sudden right before hanging a left down a side street. Another few turns later and no sign of the sedan.
“I think we shook ’em.” The smirk on the driver’s gaunt, wrinkled face revealed he was more than pleased with himself.
“I don’t know…” Kitty looked out the windows and tried to spot any suspicious activity. Nothing.
The cab resumed its normal route and Kitty breathed a sigh of relief.
The rear windshield exploded. Kitty dove to the floorboard with a scream. The taxi swerved as the sedan, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, sped past and out of sight.
“Holy shit!” The cabbie screamed over his shoulder, “You okay? Lady, you alive?”
Kitty squeezed her eyes shut and wondered for a split second if she were dreaming. Blood trickled down the right side of her face; chunks of glass covered both her back and the seat. Her breathing quickened and she became light-headed. Breathe, Kitty, breathe slowly, she told herself, but darkness was closing in…
Kitty slowly opened her eyes. White. Everywhere she looked was white. White sheets, white walls…where was she, anyway? She looked down at her hospital gown; the sight jolted her memory. Oh, that’s right. Someone shot at me. Was it a warning or a hit? Or just a freak accident, ’cause who the hell would want me dead? Her noggin was throbbing; she gingerly touched a bandage covering a shaved section of her head. Ouch!
“Oh, good, look who’s up,” a cheery, petite nurse said as she bustled into the room. “I’ll go tell the doctor. How are you feeling, honey? You were out for a while.”
“I’ve been better,” Kitty groaned. “What happened? The last I remember is being in a cab and I think I passed out.”
“Someone dumped you off at the ER,” said the nurse. “You were in some sort of car accident. Wish I knew more but whoever dropped you off didn’t stick around to answer any questions.”
Asshole cabbie. Kitty muttered, “So, what’s my prognosis?”
The nurse took Kitty’s blood pressure. “Well, you have a real nasty gash on your head. Needed ten stitches. You’re still pretty groggy from the meds we gave you, I’m sure, and we’ll probably keep you overnight, but you’ll be fine.”
The next morning, Kitty was released. Celeste had come to the hospital to drive her sister home.
“What am I going to do about you?” Celeste mumbled as she maneuvered her X5 through traffic. Her normally serene blue eyes were cloudy. “You have me worried to death, Kitty. You’re telling me someone was following you and shot at you? Who on earth would do this? Have you gotten yourself mixed up in anything illegal?”
Kitty shook her head. She figured it best to avoid the details of her drop off for Bobby. “No, and honestly, I don’t want you to worry about it. I’ll figure everything out.”
“Figure it out? Figure what out–that someone wants you dead?” Celeste shrieked.
“Celeste, please. For all we know, it’s a random incident. Stranger things happen every day.”
Celeste clucked her tongue. “You have me scared, Kitty. You’re not telling me everything, either, I know you–it’s all over your face. We should go to the police.”
“That’s not happening. No way.”
“And why is that?”
“The cops are the last people I want to see right now,” Kitty said, choosing her words with care.
“This has something to do with that Bobby Vitolli, doesn’t it? He is involved with the Mafia, isn’t he? Is that why you’re scared to go to the po–”
“I’m not talking about it any more, Celeste. Not now.” Kitty typed away on her phone; she needed to see Bobby and was texting him so. “I just want to rest; I have a splitting headache.”
“You’re coming home with me,” Celeste said with a clenched jaw. “I’m looking after you. And I’m not taking no for an answer.”
Within an hour, Kitty had passed out on Celeste’s couch. She woke to find a text, not from Bobby, but from Clarissa.
Kitty, call me when you get this.
She buzzed Clarissa. The agent answered before the first ring had cleared.
“Well, how’s my bruised and bloody supermodel doing?” Clarissa said. “And don’t bother asking me how I know, either; word travels fast in this city. I hear you have a gash on your head the size of Nantucket. How the hell are you supposed to shoot a hair ad in two days looking like a Manson victim?”
“Well, your source exaggerated, for one. And two, gee, Clarissa, I’m feeling fine, thanks for asking,” Kitty said wryly.
Clarissa snorted. “Kitty, I’m a business woman; I think money, I eat money, and at night, I dream money. That’s what I do. What happened, exactly?”
“Nothing to worry about. The cut isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Hmmm. From what I heard, they had to give you stitches. True?”
“But everything gets Photoshopped in the end, Clarissa, you know that,” Kitty sputtered.
“Photoshop can’t fix everything, Kitty. Look, of course I’m glad you weren’t seriously injured, but I don’t think you get it; I can’t have a jacked up girl show up on a client’s doorstep. It would make both of us look shitty, and I value my reputation above all else.”
Kitty swallowed. “Okay, so….”
“So I canceled your shoot–I told them you’re under the weather, and they booked another girl. But that’s not the worst of it. Trixie dropped you.”
“Their consumers are teens, and you’ve been getting tons of press involving shootings and murder and stuff. Can you blame them?” Clarissa paused before venturing on. “And, to tell you the truth, Kitty, this isn’t the kind of press I want for my agency, either. I’ve worked too damn hard to put up with this kind of crap. We’ve had a good run, you and I, but I think it’s time we parted ways.”
Kitty’s mouth dropped. A massive lump rose in the back of her throat but she managed to say in a steady voice, “I honestly didn’t mean for any of this to happen. I’m sorry, but we can work it out, can’t we?”
“You’re a good kid,” sighed Clarissa, “but you’re just not good for business anymore. I can’t just sweep it under the carpet, not when my wallet keeps getting hit. You get where I’m coming from, right? It’s not fair to me and my business. Money is–”
But Kitty had hung up. Tears were spilling down her cheeks and she didn’t want Clarissa to know how upset she was. She also had no desire to hear any more about what a disappointment she was, about how much money and clout the agency was losing. “What a hot mess,” Kitty said under breath.
The reporter for Sass and Style held her pen to her mouth as she listened to the supermodel. “Kitty, Clarissa Goldenblatt handles some of the brightest talent in the business. You’ve starred in some of the biggest campaigns in the world. Why did you decide to part after so many profitable years together?”
“I got in a bad car accident. Needed stitches and everything. I was actually hospitalized for quite a while.” Kitty put on her best sad face and took a sip of mineral water. Where was the waitress, anyway? She needed to order another bottle. I thought the Four Seasons had top notch service? “Clarissa was completely cold about it all–she didn’t care about my injuries. She only cared that I ‘wasn’t profitable,’ in her words, and that I missed out on work while I recuperated.”
“How horrible for you.”
“Yes, it was a shock. There are enough sharks in this business without being repped by one, you know? So I ended my relationship with her. I feel pretty betrayed by the whole debacle. I mean, she and I were like family for so many years. At least, I thought we were family, but obviously she only looked at me as a dollar sign. Maybe this is a sign I should move on from modeling. Get a real job, like my sister says.”
The reporter perked up. “Celeste McClarren. Very successful model in her own right. So your sister wants you to find a new career? Perhaps become a mother and settle down, as she did?”
Kitty nodded. “Yes. But there really aren’t any eligible men I can think of. At least not at the moment, so I’m just trying to stay focused on my career. There are movie offers I’m considering. I’ve always fancied myself dabbling in film…I think I’d be good.”
“Speaking of men, Bobby Vitolli, renowned lady’s man and reputed mafioso, has been linked to you.” The reporter grinned and scooted her chair closer to Kitty’s. “What’s the skinny on you two?”
“There is no skinny,” Kitty said with a shrug. “I barely know him. I met him once, at a nightclub–”
“The infamous Deuces,” the interviewer exclaimed. “Most recently in the news for a murder, no less.”
Kitty ignored the interruption. “–but it was only briefly. The paparazzi just happened to capture us going in together but that was purely coincidental.”
A half hour later, Kitty breathed a sigh of relief when the exchange had wrapped. A few harmless white lies, Kitty told herself; at least she set the record straight. Her version of straight, anyway.
Over the course of the next two weeks, Kitty busied herself with meetings–meetings with producers, directors, and new potential agents. She was determined to nail down a new project, and something big. That cranky cow, Clarissa, would see just how profitable and desirable Kitty McClarren was!
Kitty’s cell rang while she was en route to an appointment with a high-powered talent agency.
“How’s my Kitty Cat been purrin’?” said Bobby on the other line.
“Just fine,” she said. “Been missing you, actually.”
“Oh, yeah? How ’bout we catch up soon….as in, oh, I don’t know…tonight? My place at seven?”
Kitty bit her lip. “You got it.”
“Thank God you weren’t seriously injured,” Bobby said. Kitty had just recounted her hit-and-run experience over a glass of wine at his place.
“Bobby, can I ask you a question?” Kitty took a deep breath. “I don’t mean to pry, but who exactly was that man I made the drop off to? He looked really nasty, like no one you would associate with. I got a bad feeling about him.”
Bobby sipped his Merlot. “Richie’s a business associate. I don’t see much of the guy outside a few times a month. It was important I get that parcel to him…he did a job for my company and needed his cut. I just couldn’t be there to drop it off myself. I really appreciate it, baby, you helping me out.”
Kitty looked Bobby squarely in the eyes. “Tell me something,” she said with a look of dead seriousness. “Do I need to be worried?”
“My life. My safety, my family’s safety. Do I? I swear someone followed me when I left Richie’s place, Bobby, and that person shot at me. Either to warn me to stay away or to really kill me.”
“Kitty, I honest-to-God would never put you in harm’s way. Never.” He stroked her cheek. “If I thought there was ever a chance of you being harmed…believe me, I never woulda asked you to help me out in the first place. I feel bad, I really do. I probably never should have gotten you mixed up in any of this.”
“Too late now,” Kitty said.
“I guess it is…you know, I read that interview you gave to the entertainment magazine. Style something-or-other. I really appreciate you down-playing everything, our association and all. Not that I’m ashamed of being linked to you in any way…but it’s best to keep things private. You’ve proved yourself to be trustworthy and I rarely meet anyone trustworthy. Or discreet. You’re a helluva girl.” Bobby grabbed the hair on the nape of Kitty’s neck and kissed her hard. Kitty’s extremities went limp as his lips tore into hers. She tried to catch her breath but Bobby wouldn’t let her come up for air.
God, this man is really fucking my head up…
“New York nightclub owner, Paul Mazzarini, who has been rumored to be responsible for the murder of at least two dozen men, including a man killed at Mazzarini’s lounge, Deuces, is now free on bail. Mazzarini’s bail was set at 1.2 million dollars. When asked to comment, Mazzarini’s lawyer spoke up and said his client is innocent and unjustly accused.”
Kitty and Bobby watched the morning news together. The color in Bobby’s face dissipated with every word the reporter uttered.
“I know you won’t tell me, but I bet you he’s guilty.” Kitty said as she stretched her legs across Bobby’s lap. “Even though he looks like a teddy bear, Paul’s eyes have this cold, dead look.”
“Yeah,” was Bobby’s tight-lipped reply. He jumped up and began to pace.
“Bobby, you okay?”
“No. I gotta skip town.”
“Look, this is all I’m gonna say: the lawyer is right.”
Kitty raised her brows. “What–about Paul being innocent?” She waited for a response but he remained silent. “So the cops did arrest the wrong guy then? And since you were also there that night….this means–”
“I told you, Kitty, I can’t fucking talk about it! Stop asking questions.” Bobby walked to the kitchen to pour himself a glass of water. “You’re a smart girl, you get the gist. This isn’t good. None of this is good. I gotta make a call.” He disappeared into the bedroom and emerged a half hour later.
“Any good news?” she asked.
“I wish,” he mumbled. “I’m leaving tonight, Kitty. I have no choice, and I gotta know–are you in?”
Bobby took Kitty’s hands in his. “Come with me. I’m crazy about you, Kitty. I love you, and I want you with me.”
Kitty’s heart skipped several beats. Words evaded her and she could only murmur, “I…uh…”
“What, you’re sayin’ you feel nothin’ for me?” he demanded.
“No, that’s not at all what I’m saying. I love you, too, Bobby. I have since the moment I met you, I think. I just don’t know about your plan.” She took a deep breath. “I mean, where would we go?”
“I got a friend in Canada we can lay low with for a while. I’ve got no choice here, Kitty. No two ways about it, I gotta get the hell outta Dodge. It’s just a question of you coming with me. I need you, Kitty…I want you with me.”
Kitty’s mind was racing. She blinked several times, as if the motion would slow her brain down. “But what about me and my career? I get that you need to skip town but–”
“I’ve got my hands in lotsa different cookie jars, Kitty. Lots. I told you I’m the primary investor of two films that start shooting in six months–one in Queens, one in L.A. We lay low for a bit, while there’s heat, and then in a few months’ time you make a big splash in one of the films. Or both! Why not, I’ll make sure you get parts in both. You’ll be amazing, I bet.”
“I appreciate that, Bobby. Thank you. But, I mean…until then…” Kitty’s voice trailed off.
“Until then we’ve got each other while we keep a low profile.” Bobby softly stroked her head.
For the first time in her life, Kitty decided to take a chance on love. What have I got to lose? I’ve focused on my career for so long I’ve forgotten about life. And here is this gorgeous man who says he loves me…
By dusk, the two lovebirds were on the road, headed north. Kitty held Bobby’s hand for nearly the entirety of the seven hour drive. She wondered what on earth she would tell her family…she couldn’t let anyone know her whereabouts, or whom she was with, but she wanted her mother and sister to understand she was going to be gone for a while–and that she was safe…
She glanced over at Bobby; the moonlight illuminated his classically handsome features. He caught her staring and, with a grin, gave her hand a squeeze. Kitty’s heart soared. In that moment, she had forgotten all about her unanswered questions.
Kitty pressed the phone closer against her eardrum. “I don’t think I heard you right. What did you say?”
“Your mother is at Lenox Hill, in a coma,” Celeste repeated on the other end. “They think she had a stroke and fell down the stairs, banged herself up pretty badly. The doctors tried to contact you but you never answered your phone. Where are you, anyway?”
It had only been three days since Kitty had been in Quebec with Bobby. She had noticed a barrage of calls going off on her phone within the last twenty-four hours…but not recognizing the number, she didn’t answer. And there were no voice-mails.
“I’m out of town, Celeste,” Kitty said. “A last minute thing. But I’m coming back. I’ll be there tomorrow, just as soon as I can.”
The next day, Kitty rented a car for her journey back to Manhattan. As she sped home, she thought of her tense exchange with Bobby before she had driven off.
“So, baby, when are you coming back?” Bobby had said. “I need you with me, you know.”
“I don’t know, Bobby,” she had told him.
“Well, give me a time frame, at least. Four, five days? A week? What are we looking at?”
“My mom is sick, Bobby. She had a heart attack. You get that right? The last thing I’m thinking about is driving back to Quebec right away.”
The fact that he could only think about himself and his plight–and wanting her all to himself just because he was on the lam–made Kitty see red. How dare he be so selfish! Who the hell does he think he is and more importantly, what am I doing with him in Canada? Hiding out like a common criminal! I’m Kitty McClarren, damn it, and I have a life! It isn’t my fault he made bad choices…why should I make his problems my own?
When she finally arrived at Lenox Hill, it was dark out. The site of her mother bruised, bandaged, and hooked to so many wires brought Kitty to tears. Maryanne had always been a strong woman. Kitty, in all of her life, had only seen her spry, five foot three mother cry twice and come down with the flu once. She was a warrior, the matriarch, and for her to be in such a dilapidated state was too much for Kitty to bear. She collapsed in a bedside chair and her body trembled with sobs.
“There’s nothing you can do right now, sweetie,” the nurse said to her, putting an arm around Kitty’s shoulder. “Go home and get some rest. Come back tomorrow. Hopefully there will be some good news.”
Kitty wondered why she hadn’t visited her mother more in the last month. I’ve been a bad daughter, so consumed with work. If her mom woke from her coma–God willing–Kitty vowed to be more attentive. Maybe the ordeal was a blessing in disguise, she said to herself; in that instant, she realized, with tremendous clarity, how unhealthy Bobby was for her. Sure, he was exciting, but surely there were other men out there who offered just as much excitement, minus the criminal background! What on earth had she been thinking, running away with him like that? Ugh. Better to realize it now than later.
Kitty drove straight to her apartment, mentally and physically drained. She prayed the morning would yield positive news.
Day after day, Kitty paid visits to her comatose mother. Days stretched into weeks with no change in Maryanne’s condition. Kitty was worn out from the stress of it all; bags had begun to creep up underneath her eyes and her normally luminous skin took on a listless pallor.
“It’s just unbelievable, Celeste,” Kitty told her sister one evening. “It’s like she’s here and yet not here at all. The doctors don’t think she’s suffered brain damage but with each day…I mean, I don’t know, it’s kind of hard to keep being hopeful.”
Celeste scooted closer to Kitty on the couch. “You have to be hopeful, Kitty. Without hope, what is there? People wake from comas all the time, and Maryanne will, too. Be positive.”
“I am positive but it’s just so frustrating. I’m exhausted.” Kitty rubbed her temples.
“I know. Maybe you should get away for a little while. Maybe a spa in Arizona for a few days. Some place warm and cheery. Come on, I’ll treat you.” Celeste’s azure eyes were plagued with concern. She was forever worrying over her half-sister–more so after having become a mother–and loathed seeing Kitty so distressed.
“Thanks, Celeste, but I can’t. What if Mom wakes up? I can’t leave. Not now.”
“You have to take care of yourself, too, Kitty. I don’t want you getting sick.” Celeste brushed a lock of hair away from Kitty’s face.
Kitty grabbed her cell out of her Reissue tote. “Hello?”
The supermodel furrowed her perfect brows. It couldn’t be who she thought it was. Surely not. And yet, that distinctive bark…“Speaking. Who is this?”
“How can you not recognize my fuckin’ voice? It’s Clarissa Goldenblatt.”
I knew it. That bitch’s voice is impossible to duplicate. “Uh, hi, Clarissa.”
Celeste shot Kitty a look of shock from across the room.
“Okay, to cut to the chase, because you know I don’t do bullshit,” said Clarissa, “I miss you, I miss the business you brought me, and I want you back. No hard feelings–let’s let bygones be bygones. Oh, and I received a call this morning from Tedd Westgate.”
“Okay…” Kitty tried to process the influx of information.
“You know, that major Scottish producer? He’s got a gazillion films under his belt.”
“Yeah, of course I know who he is,” said Kitty.
“He wants you for the lead in his new flick. He sent the script over and it’s fucking fantastic. Smart, sexy, you’ll love it. It’s perfect for you, especially for your first film. Eight hundred grand. I tried for nine, but his first offer was seven-fifty, so at least we got him up a little. So, girl, I gotta know–you in?”
Kitty sat back down. Her head was spinning. She thought of ways she could put her newfound cash to use–she could get her mother extra care and take her to a specialist. “Well…I mean, do you have any more details, Clarissa, or–”
“Shoots in L.A. next month. The girl he originally cast dropped out. Tedd said he saw an interview you gave and knew you’d be perfect. Also said your romance with a certain, umm, gangster reminded him of the character in his movie. So I guess I was wrong that Bobby Vitolli was shitty for your career. I stand corrected.”
Bobby. I wonder how he is. Kitty had severed all ties with the handsome renegade but thought about him every day and prayed he was safe. “Wow. I don’t know what to say…except that I’m going to gloat over all this someday, Clarissa, when my head is clearer.”
“Yeah, well, first things first. We need to jump on this, ’cause you know how this game is played. They’ve got twenty more girls lined up if you pass–”
“No,” Kitty said. “I’m not passing. Of course I want the part. God, do I ever want it. I’m just shocked you called. It’s not like you, being that you’re so stubborn.”
Clarissa snickered. “Yeah, I don’t usually do 180s. I had a weak moment, what can I say. So, did you miss me?”
“Barely. A little, maybe.”
“Well, I miss you, I don’t mind admitting. And I especially miss stuffing my bank account with the cash you brought in. Depresses me, the whole thing. Okay, enough of this sap. I’m emailing you the script and contract. Get it back to me today by five.”
“Good news?” Celeste asked when Kitty set her phone down.
Kitty wiggled her brows. “Clarissa has a movie for me. She’s a machine. She’s crazy, but I’m glad she’s back. And, get this, the producer–”
The phone interrupted Kitty. Really? Again? People, go away!
“Miss McClarren, this is Doctor Voight at Lenox Hill.”
Kitty sucked in her breath. Her heart rate accelerated to the speed of a Concorde. She gripped her phone tighter and braced herself for earth-shattering news. “Hi, doctor.”
Dr. Voight cleared his throat. “I thought you should know your moth–”
“Yes?” Kitty interjected.
“Your mother just opened her eyes. There’s also movement in her hands. This is excellent, Miss McClarren, excellent news…”
A smile spread across Kitty’s face. She exhaled, loudly, for what felt like the first time in years.
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