The Marriage Deal

By:

CHAPTER ONE


‘CUT,’ the director called. ‘That’s a wrap.’

They were the sweetest words she’d heard all day, Sandrine decided as she lifted a hand to ease the weight of her elaborate wig.

Period costume was not the most comfortable wearing apparel, nor was the boned, tightly laced corselet worn to achieve an eighteen-inch waist and push her breasts impossibly high and bare them almost to the point of indecent exposure.

Add the heat of the studio lights, a lead actor who had an inflated ego and delusions of grandeur, the director from hell, and the axiom, ‘One should suffer in the name of one’s art’, had never been more pertinent.

‘A word, sweetheart.’

From Tony’s lips, sweetheart was not a term of endearment, and she froze, then she turned slowly to face the aging director whose talent was legend, but whose manner on occasion belonged in a backstreet of Naples.

‘Dinner tonight, my place. Seven.’ Hard dark eyes speared hers. ‘Be there.’ He turned his head and swept an arm to encompass five of her fellow actors. ‘Everyone.’

Sandrine stifled a faint groan. All she wanted to do was to change, shower, put on her own clothes and drive to the waterfront villa she called home for the duration of filming, catch a snack and read through her lines for tomorrow.

‘Do we get to ask why?’ the lead actor queried petulantly.

‘Money. The film needs it. My guest has it,’ the director declared succinctly. ‘If his request to meet the cast will clinch an essential injection of funds, so be it.’

‘Tonight?’ Sandrine reiterated, and suffered the dark lance of his gaze.

‘Do you have a problem with that?’

If she did, voicing it would do no good at all, and she affected an eloquent shrug in resignation. ‘I guess not.’

He swung an eagle eye over the rest of the cast. ‘Anyone else?’

‘You could have given us more notice,’ the lead actor complained, and earned an earthy oath for his temerity.

‘Difficult, when the man only arrived in the country yesterday.’

‘Okay, okay, I get the picture.’

‘Pleased to hear it,’ was the cryptic response. ‘Continuity,’ he commanded, and Sandrine gave a heartfelt sigh.

Fifteen minutes later she was done with wardrobe, and she crossed the car park and slid in behind the wheel of her hire-car. Dressed in casual shorts and top, her long sable hair wound into a careless knot atop her head made for comfort in the intense afternoon heat.

Sandrine activated the air-conditioning the instant the engine purred into life, and minutes later she gained the main southern highway.

Her leased accommodation was a two-level villa overlooking water at Sanctuary Cove, a prestigious suburb on Queensland’s Gold Coast, only a ten-minute drive from the Coomera film studios.

She activated the CD player as she took the Hope Island–Sanctuary Cove exit ramp and let the funky beat ease the kinks of a rough day.

A tree-lined river wound its way towards a man-made canal system, a nest of beautiful homes and the lush grounds of a popular golf course.

A view that exuded peace and tranquillity, she conceded as she veered towards Sanctuary Cove, then, clear of the security gate guarding the entrance to one of several residential areas, she took the gently curved road leading to the clutch of two-level villas hugging the waterfront.

Cement-rendered brick, painted pale blue with white trim, pebbled gardens adorned with decorative urns provided a pleasant, refreshing facade, Sandrine acknowledged as she used a remote control to open the garage door.

Inside, there was an abundance of cool marble floors, sleek lacquered furniture, soft leather sofas and chairs, and the kitchen was a gourmand’s delight with a wealth of modern appliances. The open-plan design was pleasing, encompassing a wide curved staircase at the far end of the foyer leading to a gallery circling the upper floor, where three large bedrooms, each with an en suite, reposed.

Wide, sliding glass doors opened from the lounge and dining room onto a paved terrace that led to a private swimming pool. There was also a boat ramp.

Sandrine discarded her bag, changed into a bikini and spent precious minutes exercising by swimming a few laps of the pool. She needed the physical release, the coolness of the water, in a bid to rid herself of the persistent edge of tension.

A shower did much to restore her energy level, and she towelled her hair, then used a hand-held dryer to complete the process before crossing to the large walk-in robe.

Basic black, she decided as she riffled through her limited wardrobe. A social existence hadn’t been uppermost in her mind when she’d hurriedly packed for this particular sojourn, and most of her clothes were divided between three luxurious homes far distant from this temporary residence.

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