Excerpt from Follow the Sun

Chapter One


SHE FELT HIS PRESENCE the moment he entered.

The temperature surged. The air pressure dipped. An undefinable current shot through the sound stage, touching everyone, alerting them, making them fall silent and stand a little straighter. Sandra sensed the change the way animals sensed an imminent earthquake—along her nerve endings, in her gut, far beyond the reach of her intellect. She knew intuitively that the ground beneath her was about to shift, and that when the dust settled nothing would ever be the same again.

He was somewhere behind her, approaching. She watched Diego Salazar’s gaze narrow, his pearly smile grow impossibly wider, his shoulders square themselves beneath the soft silk of his shirt. The people on the set grew still; the ventilation system clicked off as if on cue.

All she had to do was turn around and see for herself the person whose entrance could electrify a room. Yet for a long, strange moment she was unable to move. Like the animal awaiting an earthquake, she stood frozen in place, knowing her doom was fast approaching yet helpless to stop it.

She knew without looking that the man who’d entered was Rafael Perez. No one had spoken his name, yet she knew. Anyone who could create a studio out of thin air and keep fifteen churches afloat surely had the charisma to transform a room with his entrance. Maybe he could walk on water, too.

If he could, she’d write it. She’d write whatever the hell she had to about this hot-shot hombre. And then she’d go back to the office and give Frank Flannagan a piece of her mind.

Her day had not started with a premonition of earthquakes, charismatic men or doom. In fact, it had started with an encounter with one of the least charismatic men Sandra knew—her editor. Clad in wrinkled khakis and a loud green shirt, his bald spot glaring a reflection of the fluorescent ceiling lights, Flannagan had swung by her desk and tossed an issue of Variety onto her computer keyboard, inadvertently hitting a few keys and deleting several lines from her screen. She swallowed the curse that rose to her lips, hastily hit the “Undo” function and saved her notes. Then she arranged her face into an impassive smile for her boss.

“There’s your next assignment.” He gestured toward the Variety.

Still faking a smile, she lifted the tabloid and skimmed the show-biz headlines. Flannagan pointed to the one he had in mind: Rafael Perez Signs Melanie Greer To New Pic. Smaller boldface print below the headline read, “TV star’s contract signals new era for Aztec Sun Productions.”

Sandra glanced at the date on the Variety. “This is two weeks old,” she said.

Flannagan shrugged. “My ex-wife subscribes. I get the kids every other weekend, and when Bridget’s feeling real generous she tosses in two weeks’ worth of bird-cage liners. There’s a story there, Garcia,” he insisted, jabbing the article with his finger. “Your kind of story.”

“What kind of story? This is movie news. I don’t write movie news.”

“You could if you wanted.”

“I don’t want. What I want is a crack at the metropolitan police reorganization.”

“Russo’s covering it.”

“He might need help.”

“He doesn’t.” Flannagan braced himself on her chair, tilting the back on its hinge until the lower edge dug into her spine. “Look at this,” he said, ignoring her scowl as he reached around her and traced the lines of print with his index finger. “Rafael Perez. Chicano movie schlockmeister. What’s Spanish for schlock, Sandy? Schlockito?”

If there was anything Sandra hated more than always being assigned to stories with a Chicano slant, it was being called Sandy. Especially by Flannagan. “This isn’t my beat, Frank,” she said, struggling to lower the heat under her temper before it broke into a frothing boil. “Besides, there’s no story here. A production company that specializes in schlock signed a TV actress to star in a movie. Big deal.”

“Read the article,” Flannagan ordered her, then kept talking so she couldn’t read. “This Perez guy created Aztec Sun out of thin air, and now it’s the only established production company in L.A. that specializes in Chicano movies. Perez runs his shop out of East L.A. He hires street kids, pours tons of money back into the community, single-handedly keeps fifteen churches solvent—”

Sandra laughed in spite of herself. “Fifteen?”

“Give or take. Come on, Sandita—this guy’s a hero to your people. Do a write-up. Human interest. It’ll sell papers.”

She groaned. The residents of East L.A. were no more “her people” than the millionaires of Beverly Hills were. “If you think my byline will sell papers,” she said, “then for God’s sake, let me put my byline on something worthwhile.”

“We’re supposed to be reaching out to the many Los Angeles area ethnic communities,” Flannagan recited, sounding as if he were reading a memo from upper management. “A flattering profile of a local Chicano hero is just the thing—and you’re just the reporter to do it.” He must have noticed her skepticism, because he added in a wheedling tone, “Hey, sweetie, who rescued you from Lifestyle?”

The reason Sandra had wanted to move from the Lifestyle department to Metro was so that she wouldn’t have to write flattering profiles of local heroes, Chicano or otherwise. She wanted to cover hard news.

But Flannagan refused to give her a chance. She’d been a general assignment reporter in Metro for over a year, and she was still getting sent out to cover trivial stories about beach maintenance, downtown parking problems, and anything to do with Los Angeles’s Hispanic population—as long as it wasn’t too important. She wanted to write about the goings-on in City Hall, about the continuing tensions in South Central, about crime and corruption in high places and low.

Instead, she got stuck with all the Latino stories. She’d just finished a piece on a Mexican-American who’d donated some rare Mayan artifacts to the county museum. Her piece before that dealt with bilingual nursery schools for the Hispanic community. Just because her name was Sandra Garcia, Flannagan felt she was some sort of expert.

 Given that she couldn’t convince him to assign her to meatier stories, she was trying to generate some stories on her own. The notes in her computer were transcripts of a few conversations she’d had with a lawyer in the public defenders’ office, concerning crime among the homeless. Apparently, that was a story she wouldn’t be able to pursue until she did her puff piece on Rafael Perez, Chicano Movie Mogul.

Once Flannagan departed from her desk, she skimmed the item in Variety. It didn’t say much, other than that the studio, known for low-budget action films for the direct-to-video market, had signed an actress of some stature to star in its latest production, White Angel.

Sandra read the article a second time, praying for something newsworthy to leap out at her. Nothing did.

Sighing, she telephoned the studio. Once she identified herself as a reporter from the Los Angeles Post, the switchboard operator connected her to Diego Salazar, who told her he was Rafael Perez’s second-in-command.

“We would love to have you do a story about our new movie,” he gushed. “We’re very excited about it. We’ve just started principle shooting with Melanie Greer. You know who Melanie Greer is, don’t you?”

“The star of A Touch of Madness,” Sandra read from the Variety blurb. She rarely paid attention to the prime-time soap operas on television, but she’d seen Melanie Greer’s picture on the covers of a few magazines at the supermarket check-out line. As far as Sandra knew, Melanie Greer was a B-list actress with A-list aspirations and a busy press agent.

“Maybe you could come to the studio today. They’re about to start shooting interior scenes, and Melanie Greer is here. Would you like to meet her?”

“Sure.” Sandra tried to inject some enthusiasm into her voice. No, she wouldn’t like to meet Melanie Greer. She wouldn’t even like to be writing this stupid piece. “The focus of my story will be on Rafael Perez. I’d like to meet with him, too.”

“I’ll see what I can set up. Rafael is a very busy man.”

“I understand. But I want him to be at the heart of the piece.”

“I will arrange it,” Diego Salazar promised. “We want this story, Ms. Garcia. We’ll accommodate you any way we can. What time can you get here?”

She checked her watch. “Around one, one-thirty?”

“Perfect.” He gave her directions to the studio and instructed her to ask for him at the front gate. “I’ll try to block off some time for you with Rafael Perez. As I said, he’s very busy. I do most of the public relations here. Aztec Sun is not a big operation, Ms. Garcia. But we’re getting there, and White Angel, with a rising star like Melanie Greer, is going to make us big.”

Being welcomed so warmly made Sandra suspicious. One of the clearest signals that a reporter was onto a good story was when the people she was trying to get to weren’t eager to talk. Diego Salazar was much too eager. It made her feel less like a journalist than a flack.

She peered at Flannagan, ensconced at his desk just outside the glassed-in conference room at the far end of the news room. Russo sat at the desk nearest Flannagan, his feet propped up on his desk and a phone receiver wedged between his shoulder and his jaw. His eyes met Sandra’s and he sent her a smug grin. He was Flannagan’s pet and he knew it. They were made for each other—two narrow-minded jackasses who didn’t want to admit that a woman could have what it took to be a first-rate reporter.

Tamping down her resentment, she swiveled her chair back to her computer monitor and read what she’d saved of her notes. Just wait until she won a Pulitzer for her searing report on crime among the homeless, she thought righteously. Flannagan would be beside himself with remorse for having fed her trivial assignments for so long. He would give her her pick of stories after that. And he’d order Russo to fetch her coffee and empty her waste basket….

Well, it was a nice fantasy, anyway.

She switched off her computer, stuffed a note pad and her recorder into her leather tote, lifted her blazer from where she’d draped it over the back of a nearby chair, and headed out of the news room.

After a quick detour to the lounge down the hall to get her lunch—a cup of yogurt—from the refrigerator, she ducked into the stairwell and emerged one flight up, across the corridor from the entertainment section.

The Post’ chief film critic was out, but his assistant, a dewy-eyed young woman fresh out of Pepperdine, was puttering around his office. “Hi,” Sandra said, unable to remember the girl’s name. “I was wondering if you could dig up some old reviews for me.”

Unfortunately, the girl remembered Sandra’s name. “Sandra Garcia! Wow! What brings you here?”

Sandra had heard that some of the younger women on the staff, the interns, copy assistants and go-fers, looked up to her because she’d managed to get out of Lifestyle and into Metro while still in her early thirties. Most of the top female staffers at the Post were chain-smoking, hard-bitten reporters from way back. “Broads,” they called themselves.

Sandra didn’t fit that mold. She dressed stylishly, spoke quietly, and refrained from heavy drinking. Karen Tyner, who compiled high school scores in the Sports department, told Sandra the younger generation of women working at the Post considered her their role model. “It’s that prep school polish,” Karen had explained. “You’ve got class. You’re not just one of the boys. You’re better.”

Sandra had been flattered, although she didn’t believe she was all that classy. Once she won her Pulitzer, though… Then she’d be happy to have all the newbies on the staff looking up to her.

“I’m doing a story on Rafael Perez,” she told the assistant. “He runs an independent studio called Aztec Sun. Have you got any reviews of their films?”

The girl wrinkled her nose. “Aztec Sun doesn’t make films,” she said disdainfully. “They make movies. Let me see what I can pull.”

A few minutes later, Sandra was seated in front of a scanner, perusing old reviews while she devoured her yogurt. Aztec Sun’s movies sounded pretty trashy—how artistic could such masterpieces as Vendetta, Some Call It Honor, and El Diablo be? El Diablo was Aztec Sun’s first release, and the critic had managed to find a parallel between its story line and Macbeth, of all things. But most of the four-graph review was devoted to the fact that Rafael Perez had risen out of nowhere and written, directed and produced the film for under five hundred thousand dollars—a mere pittance. Like all the other movies coming out of the studio, El Diablo featured gallons of blood, hordes of motorcycles, a cast of unknowns and an R rating.

Sandra finished her yogurt without discovering anything useful in the old reviews. She thanked the assistant, then headed for her car in the basement garage.

She tossed her blazer and tote onto the seat beside her, maneuvered out of the crowded garage, and punched the dashboard buttons to turn on the air conditioning and her favorite classic-rock station. Los Angeles at midday was dry and stale; the fronds of the palm trees lining the sidewalk sagged wearily in the dusty heat.

Stopped for a red light, she glanced at the sheet of paper on which she’d scribbled Diego Salazar’s directions to the studio. She rarely had occasion to visit East L.A. The area was rundown and seedy, the streets cluttered with bars and bodegas and more auto body shops than any neighborhood could possibly require. If Sandra had to drive there to pursue a story, it ought to be about the everyday struggles of working-class Chicanos trying to survive in a foreign land, not about a movie production company.

The freeway wasn’t too crowded, and in less than a half hour she’d reached the studio, a fenced-in compound sharing the block with a dreary-looking factory. A row of sprawling hangar-like structures stood along one side of the chain-link fence, across a broad parking lot from a nondescript three-story office building. Cruising to a halt at the gate, Sandra glimpsed a scrawny expanse of grass beyond the office building.

The guard at the gate asked her name and repeated it into a telephone. Then he smiled and waved her through. “There’s visitor’s parking right by the office,” he directed her. She thanked him and steered around the building, wondering whether his smile was natural or he’d been instructed by Diego Salazar to treat the reporter from the Post like visiting royalty.

The temper that had cooled off during her drive was beginning to steam again. One of the most difficult things she’d had to learn as a reporter was never to substitute cynicism for ironic detachment. Right now, gearing herself up to meet the studio’s effusive second-in-command, Sandra detected the salty taste of cynicism on her tongue.

She parked, climbed out of her car and slipped into her jacket, ignoring the fierce heat of the autumn afternoon and the fragrance of auto exhausts that flavored the air. A trio of workmen were unloading cartons from a van parked near one of the long gray buildings, and a slim young woman in spandex jogged across the grass, a clipboard in one hand and a walkie-talkie in the other. But except for those few people, the grounds were deserted.

Striding past a row of parched, leather-leaved rhododendrons, Sandra entered the office building. The lobby lacked amenities: no potted plants, no carpet, no mural on the wall behind the receptionist’s desk. The few chairs were vinyl, and the reading material on the coffee table trended toward Spanish-language magazines. Sandra moved directly to the receptionist, a dark-skinned woman with lacquered hair, artfully applied cosmetics and earrings so large and cumbersome Sandra’s ear lobes ached in empathy.

“Sandra Garcia, from the L.A. Post,” she introduced herself. “I’m here to see Diego Salazar.”

The receptionist announced her into the telephone. Barely a minute later, a suave, stylish man came bounding across the lobby from the elevator bank. “Ms. Garcia!” he hailed her, extending his right hand. “So glad you could come!”

As Sandra accepted Diego Salazar’s hand, she sized him up. He appeared no more than a few years older than her and stood a no more than a few inches taller, although beneath his expensive silk shirt she discerned a designer physique, the sort of musculature people paid trainers great sums to engineer. His dark, curly hair was as expensively tailored as his attire, and his face was not so much handsome as pretty, his features neat and small and perfectly symmetrical. Sandra noticed the receptionist’s coy smile as Salazar acknowledged her with a wink.

Before Sandra could speak, he launched into what sounded like a well-rehearsed speech: “We are delighted that you’re going to write a story on White Angel for the Los Angeles Post. It’s a big project for us, and we truly welcome the opportunity—”

“The subject of my story,” Sandra broke in, “is Rafael Garcia.” This assignment is about community relations, she wanted to add. It’s about wooing Chicano readers. It’s not about promoting your big project.

“Of course.” Salazar clasped his hands together and gave her a smile that revealed an abundance of white teeth and a strange lack of heart. “Rafael is what it’s all about here at Aztec Sun. He’s the soul of the company.”

“I’d like to meet him.”

“And you shall,” Salazar promised grandly. His pronunciation was crisp, almost brittle. Sandra deduced that he’d learned English young, but it wasn’t his first language. “First, let me show you around. When we’re all done with the tour, I have some publicity material I want to give you.”

She pulled out her notepad, jotted the time and date on the top blank page, and then wrote, Salazar: Rafael Perezthe soul of the company. “All right,” she said, clicking her pen shut. “Show me around.”

They left the air conditioned building for the parking lot. A gust of hot, dry air whipped Sandra’s hair across her face; she shoved it back behind her shoulders and pretended to be interested as Salazar talked about the new movie. “Melanie Greer—well, as I’m sure you know, she’s on her way to becoming a major star. Young, beautiful, and more talent than she knows what to do with. Most of her work has been in television, but we at Aztec Sun are honored to have her receiving her first big-screen star billing in one of our films…”

Standard publicity bullshit, Sandra thought wryly. God knew how she was going to generate a legitimate story from it.

He introduced her to the three workers unloading electrical equipment from the van. They were wiry young men in T-shirts, jeans and headbands, and when she asked, one told her, “Si, it’s good working here. Rafael Perez, he’s one cool dude.”

“In what way is he cool?” she asked.

The trio eyed each other. One laughed. Another shrugged. The third said, “He knows the score, you know? He walks the walk, he talks the talk.”

“He’s a good boss,” another piped up. “He pays good, he teaches you what you need to know. I mean, I come here to work, I never worked at no film studio before. He tells you what things are, where they go, what to do.”

“He don’t sit on your back,” said the third. “He treats his people with respect, you know?”

Terrific, she muttered under her breath. A cool dude who respects his employees. Banner headline material.

Diego Salazar ushered her past the parched stretch of grass, past a couple of trailers—“For our stars,” Diego Salazar explained, as if Melanie Greer weren’t the only star Aztec Sun had ever had on its payroll—past a storage facility and a building he called “the lab,” and into one of the hangars. All the while he expounded on his company’s great new film, Rafael Garcia’s vision, the broader audience appeal this movie promised, the higher budget, the quality script, the talented director, and Melanie Greer, Melanie Greer, Melanie Greer.

At the center of the cavernous warehouse stood a movie set—a seedy looking apartment with sections of the walls missing so cameras could track freely from room to room. Electrical cables snaked madly across the concrete floors; cameras stood on dollies; lights reflected off white umbrellas and glared against the pale walls of the set. Standing near the table in the kitchen of the apartment set, a tough Latino man and a frail blond woman seemed dwarfed by their surroundings.

“There she is, our lovely star,” Salazar declared, waving at the woman on the set. Glimpsing Salazar, Melanie Greer returned the wave along with a smile even more blinding than his. Although she stood a good thirty feet from Sandra, planted in the false, too-light apartment, Melanie Greer appeared radiant. Star quality, Sandra concluded, taking in the unnerving brilliance of the actress’s pale blue eyes, her porcelain skin, her delicate build.

“I’ll introduce you to her later,” Rafael whispered. “They’re rehearsing right now.”

“Can I watch?”

“Of course. Let’s stand out of the way.” He took her arm and steered her around a boom, past a row of folding metal chairs and alongside a skeleton of scaffolding hung with lights.

People scurried around the set—a woman armed with a cosmetics brush and a can of hair spray, a man wearing a headset and carrying a sheaf of papers, an electrician coiling wire, a sprightly young man wearing his headset around his neck like a collar and toting a bound script. “That’s John Rhee,” Salazar whispered. “R-H-E-E. He’s the director. His parents are Korean. We don’t hire only Hispanics, you know. We hire anyone with talent—even beautiful Anglo starlets.” He angled his head toward Melanie Greer, then grinned at Sandra as if he were sharing a confidence with her.

Sandra took note of the director’s tight jeans, his torn sneakers, his one-pocket T-shirt and the Dodgers baseball cap slung backward on his head. “Mr. Rhee doesn’t look old enough to be a director.”

“He’s twenty-five. graduate of UCLA’s film school. He’s been with Aztec Sun ever since. This is his first full-length feature.”

Sandra jotted the director’s name and age onto her pad, then looked up in time to see John Rhee confer with Melanie Greer. Melanie nodded, let the director position her on one side of the table, crossed around it and tripped over a chair. She propped herself against the table, then shook her head and giggled.

John Rhee glanced heavenward in exasperation. “Try it again,” he said, repositioning Melanie. This time she managed to circle the table without falling, but she couldn’t seem to stop giggling.

“She’s having so much fun working with us,” Salazar remarked.

Spin doctor, Sandra muttered under her breath. If the actress had taken a swan dive and plunged through the fake window in the rear wall, he’d find a way to portray it positively.

“Does her part call for a lot of giggling?”

“I think it’s nerves. That woman would have sold her soul to be able to work for Rafael Perez.”

“Her soul? Really?” Maybe Sandra was grasping at straws, but his statement gave her an inkling, an angle. A possibility that there actually was a story in this assignment. Why would a TV star be willing to sell her soul to appear in a B-movie made by a second-tier studio? What hold could a man like Rafael Perez—no matter how cool a dude he was, no matter how many churches he kept afloat with his largesse—have on a pretty, talented starlet like Melanie Greer?

As if Salazar could read her mind, he said, “Lots of people would kill to work for Rafael. He’s fair, he’s smart, and people look up to him. And he doesn’t tie you up for months. Our movies come in on schedule and under budget. Now this movie, with an actress of Melanie Greer’s stature, has a bigger budget than any other film we’ve ever produced. It’s going to launch Aztec Sun up to the next level.”


“Wider distribution. Bigger promotional push. Previews. We’re going to do this one big. And Melanie Greer is an essential part of it.”

“Will I have a chance to talk to her?” Sandra asked.

“Of course. Whatever you want. I’ll set it up, no problem.” Abruptly, Salazar fell silent, his gaze drifting past Sandra and across the vaulted sound stage.

Rafael Perez had entered.

She knew it; everyone in the building knew it. Somewhere behind her, approaching her, was the man himself, the cool dude people looked up to, the fair, smart man people would sell their souls to work for.

In her dozen years as a professional reporter, she’d interviewed business moguls, socialites, criminals, politicians, artists, beach boys and party girls. One cool dude shouldn’t faze her. Even so, she took a deep, steadying breath before she turned around.

She was shocked to find him standing only a couple of feet from her, and even more shocked to acknowledge how powerful an impression he made. His eyes were dark but searing, like black coals glowing with heat. They were set deep beneath a forehead half-obscured by a sweep of long black hair that scooped over his ears and fell below the collar of his loose-fitting linen shirt. He had a triangular nose, a square jaw, and thin lips that barely hinted at a smile as he scrutinized Sandra.

Nothing about him announced that he was a successful executive. The flashiest part of his outfit was the belt circling his slim-fitting black jeans: tooled leather held shut by a silver buckle inlaid with turquoise. His only jewelry was a plain wristwatch—black face, black strap. His shoes were soled leather moccasins. He stood about six feet tall, and his physique lacked the sort of cultivated bulk that lurked under Diego Salazar’s much fancier apparel. Rafael Perez was lean and lanky, restrained yet alert. Sandra imagined a puma, sleek, vigilant, ready to pounce.

No question about it: the man could create atmospheric disturbances with his presence. He exuded power, intensity. Sandra couldn’t define it, couldn’t figure out its source. His wary poise? The tawny undertone of his complexion, the midnight black of his hair? His height? His eyes?

They locked onto hers, holding her gaze so firmly she could almost visualize the sloping line of his vision connecting him to her. She was five-feet seven, yet with him she felt petite and dainty.

She hated feeling petite and dainty.

Another deep breath helped to nullify his effect on her. “How do you do?” she said in a bright, brave voice as she extended her right hand. “I’m Sandra Garcia from the Los Angeles Post.”

“I know who you are,” he said, and for one brief, crazy moment, as his hand closed around hers, strong and hard, she believed he knew everything there was to know about her. Even though there was nothing much to know. Even though he was the subject of this meeting, the reason behind it, the heart of her story, and who she was didn’t—shouldn’t—matter.

Any man who could stare at her with such immobilizing force, who could clasp her hand with so little effort yet leave her unable to pull away… Any man who could transform the world around him the way Rafael Perez could knew far too much.

After an endless moment he released her. Without thinking, she wiped her palm on the edge of her blazer. “Mr. Salazar promised we would have a chance to talk,” she said.

Rafael Perez exchanged a look with Diego Salazar. When he turned his gaze back to her, his mouth was curved into a cryptic smile. “Mr. Salazar shouldn’t make promises he can’t keep,” he said, his voice as soft as velvet, as hard as steel.

He turned away in time to see the pretty blond actress bounce across the room to him, still giggling. “Rafael!” she squealed, sidling up to him and looping an arm casually around his waist.

Next to him, Melanie looked downright tiny. Sandra estimated she couldn’t weigh more than a hundred pounds. Her cheeks were hollow, the bones in her arms as slender as willow branches. She turned her dazzling smile to Diego Salazar and then to Sandra, apparently anxious for everyone to be as happy as she was.

“Melanie, this is Sandra Garcia from the L.A. Post,” Diego introduced her. “She’s writing a story on Aztec Sun and White Angel.”

Melanie’s smile relaxed and she leaned toward Sandra, although she didn’t let go of Rafael. “Well, listen, let me tell you, this place is great. No b.s., no star trips, no rubber checks. I love the way Rafael does business.”

“That’s nice,” Sandra said, then glanced at Rafael. He seemed unmoved by Melanie’s glowing praise.

“Look at this,” Melanie went on, nudging a reluctant smile out of Rafael. “You can’t even suck up to this guy. He refuses to react. What am I going to do with you, Raf? How am I going to make you fall in love with me?”

“I’m sure you’ll think of something,” he said blandly, although he gave Melanie’s shoulders a squeeze. “When are you going to start filming?”

“John’s the boss,” Melanie said, gesturing toward the director, who stood on the set with his arms folded across his chest in a classically impatient stance.

“Wrong,” Diego interjected. “Rafael is the boss. Always.”

“Silly me. Of course he’s the boss.” Melanie chirped a laugh and snuggled deeper within the curve of his arm. “I love working with this guy,” she told Sandra, then pulled a face as John Rhee bellowed for her to quit wasting time and get her ass back on the set. “Him I’m not so sure about,” she muttered, jerking her thumb in Rhee’s direction. “He’s a slave driver.”

Evidently he was a slave driver with keen hearing. “I wouldn’t be on your case if you didn’t keep missing your marks, sweetheart,” he scolded as Rafael gently turned her around and sent her back to the set. “You stumble over that chair one more time, and I swear I’ll—”

“Be kind,” Diego shouted to Rhee. “She’s an artist.”

“So am I,” Rhee retorted.

Diego turned to Sandra and grinned knowingly. “And they both have artistic temperaments.”

“How’s her temperament?” Rafael asked, his gaze following Melanie.

“It’s good. Real good.”

“No problems?”


Abruptly remembering that Sandra was there, Rafael sent her a swift, incisive smile, then nodded. “Nice meeting you,” he said curtly. He pivoted on his heel and sauntered across the sound stage, his long legs carrying him through the room with arrogant grace.

Sandra realized that while Diego Salazar might want her to do a story on Aztec Sun, Rafael Perez didn’t. The cool dude, the fair man, the earthquake waiting to happen… He didn’t want the free publicity Sandra could give his new movie.

Was it something about her? Something about the movie? Something about Aztec Sun?

Or was it something about Rafael Perez?

Sandra’s journalistic instincts quivered to life. This assignment might turn out to be interesting, after all.