all about evie chameleon chronicles
CASTING CALL NOTICE:
Seeking actress for role of ditzy former Vegas showgirl Sugar Dupont. Must possess strong vocals, outgoing personality and great gazongas.
Well, two out of three ain’t bad. A showbiz veteran Evie Parish, knows she has the chops to sing and dance with the best. A Wonderbra should take care of the rest.
YOUR FUTURE PARTNER:
Arch, aka Charles Dupont, a doting older husband.
Eight days of smooching, fawning, and otherwise making a PDA spectacle of yourselves on a Caribbean cruise.
AND… THE CATCH:
Arch is one of a team of former con men staging a sting to catch a grifter–and under his stage makeup, he’s the sexiest hunk ever to don a fake moustache.
What they’re saying
Read on for Chapter 1
chameleon chronicles / book 1
hqn books, may 1, 2007
2007 RT Reviewers’ Choice Award Winner!
2007 NJRW Golden Leaf Award Winner!
what people are saying
“All About Evie, by Beth Ciotta, is an amazing charmer. Delightful. It has all right elements and beyond a doubt, is a “keeper.” I look forward to more works, sure to dazzle and entertain, by this wonderfully talented author.” — Heather Graham, NYT Bestselling Author
“Everything about Ciotta’s latest novel is fabulous: the lovable heroine, the sexy hero, the consistently humorous internal monologue, the smooth narration and the delightfully original plot. To use one of the hero’s favorite words, it’s “brilliant.” The author is in full command of her storytelling skills, and she displays them masterfully. Here’s hoping we’ll be treated to a sequel.” —Romantic Times BOOKreviews
“A truly superb novel! I couldn’t put it down! Evie was hilarious and smart, and Arch was engaging, sexy, and mysterious, exactly what I prefer in a male hero. The writing was humorous and flowed well, with interesting subplots.”–Romance Readers Connection
“Beth Ciotta’s ability to write comedic characters never lets me down. I knew from page one that I was going to enjoy ALL ABOUT EVIE and I was right. Evie is zany but full of heart, Arch was sexy but flawed and the secondaries were an interesting bunch as well. Regardless of the setting or the circumstances, if you love character driven stories that will entrance and entertain you, Beth Ciotta is a must buy.” —Road to Romance
It finally happened.
I, Evie Parish, snapped.
At an audition no less. Me, the ultimate professional. In front of several peers and a table of entertainment and marketing executives.
Bad enough I even had to audition.
I’d performed in this casino on a number of occasions throughout the years as a singer, an emcee, a dance motivator, and a character actress. Not just this casino, but every casino in Atlantic City. I was known as the poor man’s Tracy Ullman. I had versatility out the wazoo. A stellar reputation. A kick-butt résumé. I had more experience in entertainment than any one of the six stony-faced executives who’d insisted upon this live demonstration.
I also had sequined bras older than any of the people deciding my fate.
It wasn’t their youth I resented. Okay. That’s a lie. It was their inability to afford the performer their respect and attention. In between memorizing the script that I’d been handed on arrival and checking for the umpteenth time to make sure my blush and lipstick hadn’t faded, I peeked out from the wings to gauge the reaction of the powers-that-be to the actress on deck. I watched those suits yawn, mumble, and fidget through five seamless auditions. The only time they showed interest was during a giggly, stilted presentation from a big-breasted twenty-something-year-old. Granted, Britney was young, stacked, and beautiful, but she was as green as the bagel I’d found this morning in the back of my fridge.
I traded a disgusted, knowing look with two friends who were also auditioning for this gig: both in their late thirties. Talented, experienced, and equally ignored by the Gen-X execs. Nicole and Jayne were already slipping into day clothes and trading their heels for flats.
I should have cut my losses then and there and followed suit. I should have collected my purple fake fur coat and I Love Lucy travel tote and vacated the showroom in a dignified manner. But no. I was stubborn, desperate, and, dammit, hopeful. Hopeful that they’d see something in me that they didn’t see in my friends. Hopeful that talent and experience would win out.
Talk about idealistic.
When my time came I strode on stage with confidence and grace wearing a turquoise bikini top, flowered sarong, three-inch heels, and a dazzling smile. I hit my mark and launched into the poorly written promotion intended to wow casino patrons. Me, Evie Parish, a mild-mannered, small-breasted, forty-something.
Normally, I excel when reciting monologues and pitches. I can sell camp like Liza Minelli. Unfortunately, I was distracted by an overly loud conversation from the vicinity of the “judges” panel. I stopped mid-sentence. Did I mention that instead of reading off of the page like Britney, I’d memorized the copy? But I digress. No one instructed me to continue, so I didn’t. Instead, I shielded my eyes from the bright wash of the spotlight in order to pinpoint the commotion.
I’d endured a lot of humiliation in my twenty-five year career—including a crotchety patron yelling, “You suck!” three inches from my face while I was performing—but this took the cake. Instead of watching me, the executives, the people controlling my paycheck or lack thereof, were scanning a menu, seemingly arguing over what to order in for lunch. Three of them anyway. Another yapped on his cell phone, while the remaining two studied me with bored expressions.
For crying out loud!
Seething, I tugged at the hem of my mid-thigh sarong. Michael, my agent, who also happens to be my ex-husband—don’t ask—had told me the theme was tropical. Show some skin, he’d said. Then again he always says that.
“Should I wait?” I asked. “Start over? Pick up where I left off?” Go tell it on the mountain?
“Are you wearing bikini bottoms under that skirt?” This from the bored clean-shaven man who looked young enough to be my . . . younger brother.
Certain I knew where this was leading, I shifted on my strappy heels and cocked a recently waxed, perfectly-shaped eyebrow. “Yes.”
“Would you mind losing the sarong?” This from the bored woman sitting next to him. At least she knew it was a sarong.
My heart pounded with fury. The last several months, months of being rejected solely on my advancing age, weighed on my shoulders like an unlucky slot machine. “Yes, I mind.”
I heard a collective gasp from the wings. I knew without looking that Nicole and Jayne stood side by side, shocked by my defiance. I didn’t cause scenes. I was the calm one, the logical one, the one who sucked it up and took the high road no matter how low the blow.
Up until now that is.
Now this final injustice compelled me to raise a verbal sword in defense of belittled entertainers everywhere!
I stepped out of the spotlight, allowed my eyes to adjust to the low-lighted house, and gave thanks that this was a closed audition. No casino patrons to witness this humiliating debacle. No bartenders, cocktail waitresses, dealers or slot attendants to instigate gossip. Just the six executives and two stage technicians. Oh, and seven performers, including my two closest friends. I glanced toward the left wing and sure enough, Nicole, the rabble rouser of our clique, was giving me a thumbs-up while Jayne’s horrified expression shouted, “Are you mad?”
“Mad as hell,” I thought, my inner voice mimicking the deranged anchorman in that movie, Network, “and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
In that same instant, the woman who’d asked me to remove my sarong, said, “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Parish.”
Since a gigantic vaudevillian hook didn’t emerge from the sidelines to yank me off stage, I stood my ground. Hands trembling, I tucked my processed blonde hair behind my ears and faced the enemy. “Look, I’m auditioning for the role of an emcee, not a beach bunny.” Amazingly, my tone did not betray my inner frustration. Then again, I am a damn good actress. Too bad I seemed to be the only one aware of that.
The entertainment coordinator—was she even twenty?—crossed her arms over her chest and angled her head. She didn’t look happy. “As an emcee you’d be representing this property, Mrs. Parish.”
She might as well have called me ma’am. I curled my French-manicured nails into my sweaty palms. “It’s Ms. Parish and I realize that, but—”
“What does specialty performer mean?” This from one of the marketing dudes.
My left eye twitched. I tried to wet my lips, but anxiety had robbed me of saliva. I clasped my trembling hands and twirled my funky chrysoprase ring—a gift from Jayne—around my middle finger. She claimed that the mint-green stone would ease emotional tension and stress. I’m beginning to think she bought me a clunker. Even though I knew full well that, for the sake of my untainted reputation, I should swallow my anger, sarcasm tripped off of my fat, bone-dry tongue. “Excuse me?”
“On your resume it says specialty performer. What, like an exotic dancer?”
They snickered, turned to one another and traded unfunny quips like the local news reporters do at the end of their broadcasts. What’s up with that? Laughing heartily over something that wasn’t clever or funny to begin with.
Sort of like these corporate yahoos.
As I stood there, white noise roaring in my ears, I flashed back on all of the times I—and a slew of other entertainers—had lost a gig because of an unenlightened directive of a higher-up bean counter. A person with no background whatsoever in entertainment. A person who hired and fired acts based on personal taste.
I know amazing female singers who’ve been canned or passed over because a casino president deemed their hips too big. One even cited a vocalist’s ankles too thick. Can you imagine? Never mind that she sang her butt off. Did you even notice that the audience, your patrons, were thoroughly enjoying themselves, Mr. President? If the ankles bothered you that bad, what about suggesting she wear pants instead of a dress? Wouldn’t that be a simple creative solution? But wait, you’re not creative. You’re not a visionary. And neither, I concluded sadly, were the execs seated in front of me.
Heart pumping, I hopped off of the stage and approached the long table, bidding everyone’s attention with a shrill whistle. Career suicide, my logical self warned. Only I wasn’t listening to my logical self. I was listening to the injured woman who’d endured a particularly rough year, personally and professionally. There comes a time when a person needs to speak up, to demand common courtesy, respect, no matter the cost, and for me that time was now. Why I hadn’t felt this righteous urge when Michael had dumped me for another woman, I couldn’t say. Maybe I’d been too stunned, too hurt, to speak up. Just now I was angry. Insulted and really, really pissed.
I climbed up on my soapbox. If this were a TV sitcom, patriotic music would swell in the background.
“Listen up, kids. On behalf of all the other women who auditioned today, we are professionals and expect to be treated as such. Secondly, although the harem girl and French maid costumes stored in my closet might be considered exotic and although I do dance, I am not, nor have I ever been, an exotic dancer. Those costumes, by the way, hang right alongside my fuzzy bumblebee fat-suit and mad scientist lab coat. It’s all part and parcel of being a character actress. Translation: an actress with excellent improvisational skills who can represent any given character on any given day at any given private or corporate themed party. And that’s just one of my God-given talents. I also sing and dance. Hence the term specialty performer.”
“Thank you, Ms. Parish. We’ll be in touch.”
That was it? That was the payoff to my heartfelt tirade? An expressionless don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-you?
I nodded. “Got it.”
Actually, I didn’t. It was the second time I’d been dismissed and yet there I stood, trembling with fury . . . and fear. Life as I’d known it was fast swirling down the toilet. Again, I twirled the ring. “Just so you know, I’m perfect for this job.”
One of the young turks straightened his tie then coughed into his hand. “Yes. Well, thank you.”
I didn’t budge.
The pubescent woman seated to his left drummed her fingers on a stack of resumes. “As a professional, I’m sure you understand that we’re looking to please our demographic. We’re looking for someone . . .”
“Younger?” I’d been getting a lot of that lately. Even my husband had opted for a newer model, literally. Oh, yeah. This gig was going to the giggly twenty-something. Youth over experience. Mammary glands over memory skills. “Someone with a bright smile and perky breasts?” I just wanted to be certain I understood the criteria.
The panel of execs looked at me with a collective “duh.”
That’s when I snapped. “As it happens, I have both.” In a moment of righteous insanity, I flashed a thousand-watt smile in tandem with my perky 32Bs.
Permission to reproduce text granted by Harlequin Books S.A. Cover art used by arrangement with Harlequin Enterprises Limited. All rights reserved. ® and ™ are trademarks of Harlequin Enterprises Limited and/or its affiliated companies, used under license