Managed By The Highlander by Rebecca Preston
Cassidy Keene looked up from her desk at the sing-song sound of her name echoing through the office. That tone always put her on her guard… it was a tone that Mona used when she was feeling smugly vindictive, usually about something she'd been right about. And that was a long, long list. Mona was one of the best agents in Los Angeles, with a decades-long career built on guts and intuition and a fair bit of luck, but nobody mentioned that in Mona's hearing unless they wanted to get a lashing from her famously sharp tongue.
That was why Cassidy was here, working for her. It felt like a bit of a step down, becoming another agent's assistant, especially when she'd been making a decent living as an agent herself through her twenties — but she knew what she was doing. Mona was getting toward retirement — she'd made no secret of the fact that she didn't intend to work a single second past her sixtieth birthday — and that meant that she needed an heir, someone whom she could pass the reins to her prodigious organization to. Cassidy had known the minute Mona had offered her the job what it actually meant.
Sure, it felt kind of like taking on an internship… a little embarrassing, when she'd just turned thirty and had been working in the field for years. But the opportunity to shadow Mona had already taught her more than she'd bargained for. And Mona liked her. She could tell, because she didn't bully anyone else in her entire organization with the same zest and enthusiasm she reserved for Cassidy. Every suggestion she made, even as innocuous as which restaurant to take a client to for lunch, was examined with laser focus. It would have been exhausting if it wasn't exactly the kind of mentorship that Cassidy thrived under.
And right now, Mona was using the gloating tone of voice that told her in no uncertain terms that she was about to get an earful about some mistake she'd made.
Grimacing, Cassidy put a pin in the email she'd been drafting — when Mona called your name, you damn well dropped whatever you were doing — and got to her feet. The sympathetic looks she received as she walked through the office made her stifle a smile. Half the office knew exactly why Mona was always so hard on Cassidy… the other half seemed to think she was about a day away from getting fired. Well, it wasn't her fault they weren't paying attention properly.
Mona was standing behind her desk with her arms folded. She was a tiny woman, barely clearing five feet, and she refused to wear heels for any reason — but her sharp eyes and imposing dark features, as well as the gladiator energy she carried with her into every room, meant her physical presence was a lot bigger than it had any right to be. Cassidy was working on channeling some of that energy. At five foot eleven, she really should have cut a more imposing figure than she did. Maybe it was Mona's jet-black hair that did the trick. Cassidy's hair was auburn, and while her gray eyes were definitely one of her favorite parts of her face, she was aware they didn't cut through a person the way Mona's sharp, green eyes could.
The way they were cutting through her right now, in fact. Cassidy gulped, ready for the bad news.
"It's your favorite client," Mona said, malice dripping from her voice. "You remember. The one you bullied me into taking, despite my better judgment."
This was a trap that Cassidy had fallen into before — the trap of trying to rewrite Mona's memory. She knew which client she was talking about immediately, of course. Mark Star — a stage name, if that wasn't glaringly obvious. Some bright young thing out of New York, incredibly talented with an ego to match. Cassidy had seen him in an independent production of some local playwright's newest offering quite by chance — the script had been awful, but Star had the kind of charisma that would make a grocery list sound electrifying. Young, handsome, completely unknown… and clearly destined for stardom. And even better, from the looks of things, he hadn't signed with an agent yet, with his bio in the program describing him as 'in search of representation'.
She'd cornered him at the stage door. Mona was always telling her to follow her instincts… although now she was wondering whether she'd felt a prickle of apprehension when she'd wondered why a young actor with such clear talent hadn't been snapped up by one of the swarm of voracious agents in this city. After all, it looked like he'd been here for at least a few months, if he'd been rehearsing the show… still, she'd given him her card and promised to follow up with him from the office the next day.
They'd brought him in for an interview. He was her first real find since she'd taken the job as Mona's assistant, and she was almost beside herself waiting for the woman to see what she'd seen in him. He'd turned up late, of course, and he'd refused to take his sunglasses off for the conversation… but actors were like that, weren't they? When they were good, you took the quirks. And there was no denying his good looks, or more importantly his charisma — it shone even through the sunglasses like a hundred-watt globe.
After the interview, Cassidy had turned to Mona with bated breath. But Mona had just rolled his eyes.
"Pity," she'd said, patting Cassidy on the hand. "Next one'll be a winner."
It was unusually friendly, for Mona… but Cassidy had been so affronted that she'd made the mistake of speaking before she'd carefully considered her next move. "What do you mean? He's amazing."
"Late," Mona drawled. "Rude. Come on, Cassidy —"
"You saw him! He's going to be a star."
"Fine." Mona's eyes were inscrutable. "I'll sign him, then. Draw up the paperwork."
That had been the second trap that Cassidy had fallen into, she knew that now. Because from the second Mark Star had been added to their books, he'd been nothing but trouble. He never answered his phone or replied to his emails. He was a constant no-show to every audition they put him up for. He complained ceaselessly that they weren't getting him work, the right kind of work, enough work — that they clearly didn't believe in his talent, that he deserved better treatment. And every single time he caused trouble, it was Cassidy who had to deal with it. They'd signed a year-long contract with him, and three months in, she absolutely could not wait for that term to be over.
What was worse, Mona had clearly decided to really drive home the lesson by putting Cassidy on what boiled down to babysitting duty for every single major and minor star on her books. Every time a client needed to be picked up from some party because they were blitzed out of their mind, the 3 a.m. phone call went straight to Cassidy. Every tantrum that was thrown on set, Cassidy was on damage control. Every angry phone call ranting about an audition that someone hadn't gotten, or the most recent piece of completely unfounded gossip floating around the tabloids… Cassidy was there to pick up the pieces.
A valuable lesson, she told herself repeatedly through gritted teeth. But a lesson that might just burn her out before the year's end. That was what Mona was counting on, of course — her teaching methods involved pushing a person to the breaking point, then pushing them a little bit further, just to see what would happen. It was a hell of a way to get to know the industry more intimately… as well as a lot more about herself. Like the fact that she had deeper reserves of patience than she'd imagined.
"Mona, it's the middle of the afternoon," Cassidy said blankly, now, feeling despair rear its familiar head. "What kind of trouble could he possibly be in?"
"You can tell me after you get back from the police station," Mona said, the tight-lipped smile on her face making it abundantly clear how much she was enjoying this. "You can do a coffee run on your way back."
He was meant to be on set, Cassidy thought over and over as she headed into the mid-afternoon sunshine. The traffic was going to be heinous at this time of day, but at least it would give the aspirin a bit of time to kick in before she reached the police station. Right now, she needed all the help she could get in staying calm. Cassidy tried to focus on her breathing exercises as she piloted her small car through the crowded LA streets. She had to stay calm, had to stay positive and helpful… this was a test, she was being tested. This was a lesson she'd never forget. Mona knew that… Cassidy just had to prove, to herself as well as her mentor, that she'd taken the lesson on board. And that meant smiling in this handsome, talented asshole's face while they handled the most recent in a long and terrible line of DUI's.
"Be an agent, they said," she muttered under her breath, finding herself on the edge of laughter — a good sign that she'd found her calm. Just in time, too. The precinct was coming up, and it was going to take a fair bit of persuasion to get her client out this time.
But if there was one thing Cassidy knew was a strength of hers, it was persuasion.