The son of a bitch was going to make her lie.
Sons of bitches, Alison Carter corrected herself, because
her adorable new friend Hugh was part of this hideous
charade. In fact, it was rapidly becoming crystal clear that
this - her impending lie-was the young production
assistant's reason for bringing her here, to this
undetermined level of hell. Oh, it looked like the dusty
street outside of movie star Trace Marcus's huge trailer,
but it was definitely hell.
The morning sky was clear and so blue it hurt Alison's eyes.
It was barely 8:30, and the desert sun was already much too
hot on the back of her neck.
"Who is she?" Trace's wife demanded through her
tears, her mascara making black streaks down what had once
been a ridiculously pretty face. Now she just looked
ridiculous, the plastic surgery she'd had leaving her
looking perpetually surprised as she confronted her
philandering husband. "I want to know-I deserve to
"I hate you," Alison murmured to Hugh, who, with his
tastefully messed red hair, hazel eyes, and athletically
trim body, remained adorable despite his dragging her into
"Trace needs to be in makeup in twenty minutes," he
murmured back as he pulled her closer to this snake pit of
domestic non-bliss. "Ninety-seven thousand dollars an
That was his default answer to almost anything - his
recitation of the enormous amount of money it was costing
director Henry Logan's production company to bring this
movie - Quinn -- to the big screen.
And it was true that if an actor were late to the set, money
would, indeed, pour from the company's veins as dozens of
crew members stood around, uselessly waiting for the star to
undiva his or her ass and get down to work.
So far, it had happened four different times, courtesy of
"Who is she, Tracey?" Marcus's wife asked him again.
His creepy and ever-present personal assistant, Skip,
mumbled something in his low-talker's voice that Alison
couldn't hear, but the wife could and she snapped, "Shut
up, Skippy, I wasn't asking you."
Alison couldn't remember Mrs. Marcus's name, but she, like
her husband, had been a huge star back when she was in her
late teens, early twenties.
Which really wasn't that long ago.
Trace had started celebrating his thirty-third birthday last
night. Thirty-three, and he was in desperate need of a
comeback, which playing Silas Quinn was designed to provide.
No doubt about it, this was a crazy, crazy business Alison
was dipping her toe into here. And she'd always thought the
academic world was a little nuts.
But here she was, standing in the dust beneath the
blistering hot sun, ready to provide an alibi for a man who
wasn't just a crazy actor, but was also a card-carrying
moron. It was his freaking birthday. Today. A degree in
rocket science wasn't needed to theorize that since it was
his birthday, it was highly likely that his loving wife was
going to show up here on location, to surprise him with a
Instead Trace had surprised her. Eleanor. That was her name.
Although it really shouldn't have been that big of a
surprise for Eleanor to find her husband's trailer rocking,
not after ten long years spent married to the man. He was a
dog. Surely she knew that by now. He couldn't keep his pants
zipped to save his life; forget about saving his marriage.
The day Trace had arrived on set, not five minutes after
stepping into the much smaller trailer that was Alison's new
office, he'd hit on her - and she'd been so startled she'd
laughed in his face.
Which was a mistake, because he now avoided her like the
As the official historical consultant for this film, as the
author of the latest definitive book about the shoot-out at
the Red Rock Saloon, Alison had a wealth of information
about the details of Silas Quinn's life. She had a file with
newspaper clippings and rare photos. Pictures of Quinn with
Melody, taken shortly after their wedding. Pictures of the
deceptively pleasant-looking Kid Gallagher gambling in San
Francisco. Pictures Trace should want to see as he worked to
bring Quinn back to life in this big-budget, high-profile
Alison even had an actual cigar box that the marshal had
once kept upon his desk, along with the Bible that the man
had carried with him for most of his too short life, even
though he'd never had time to learn to read.
Filming had started, but Trace wasn't interested in seeing
any of that material, because Alison had thought he was
joking when he'd offered to do her on her desk, the way he'd
done to Gina Gershon's character in Last Cowboy Standing.
And yes, the man was almost freakishly handsome with his
dark hair and brown eyes, with that trademark Marcus smile.
All of the excess weight he'd put on in his late twenties
had finally turned into man-muscle. True, he no longer could
play a scene without his shirt, but he was now the perfect
size to play Silas Quinn, who'd been a full-grown,
incredibly attractive bear of a man.
Still, Trace's offer had been absurd.
And maybe Alison was unused to the ways of Hollywood, coming
as she had from Boston College's history department, where
doing it on one's desk with a married man was usually
frowned upon, independent of whether or not one was a Gina
And so she'd laughed at his proposal. Loudly.
In Trace's handsome face.
She'd seen, right away, that he was affronted, and she'd
immediately apologized and even thanked him - which felt
beyond strange-telling him that casual sex just wasn't her
Which was not a lie. It was just not usually something she
had to tell a man within five minutes of meeting him.
"Let's move this inside," Hugh suggested now,
talking to Skippy, who tried to herd them toward the trailer
door, but Eleanor clearly liked having an audience.
"I heard him in there, fucking some slut," she told
them, the crass language oddly jarring, spoken as it was in
her little-girl voice. She spoke loudly enough so that the
growing crowd of extras and crew could hear her, too.
"So I left, but then I thought, Why am I always the one
running away? So I came back, but she was already gone, and
now he says it wasn't him in there, that he was at a meeting
- at eight o'clock in the morning when his call isn't until
eleven...? Like I'm supposed to believe that?"
"Trace was in a meeting," Hugh lied effortlessly as
he tried to pull Alison even closer.
But she'd gone as far as she was willing to go. She pinched
him and he released her, giving her a look that meant...
what? That she was disappointing him? Seriously?
"See, I was in a meeting," Trace echoed, the
slightest tinge of relief making his words rush together as
he looked at Hugh and realized that they had come to rescue
him. Particularly after Hugh pointed surreptitiously toward
Alison. "Researching my character. With Professor,
"Carter," Hugh helpfully filled in, because the man
had apparently forgotten Alison's name. He thumbed his
BlackBerry as if the star's schedule were on his personal
calendar. "It was... Yes, at seven-thirty A.M. A
breakfast meeting. In Dr. Carter's office. Which is over
with the rest of the production trailers."
And now Eleanor was looking at Alison, sizing her up with
her neon blue contact lens-enhanced eyes, her fading
suspicion mingling with her hope and relief as Hugh kept
spewing his bullcrap.
"She's tremendously busy. Dr. Carter. She needs to
approve the costumes for every extra - and we've got a lot
of them on set for the next few weeks. Plus she looks at
every single script revision, every tweak in the dialogue.
The only open time she had to talk to Trace was early this
Alison stayed silent, holding her breath, praying that
Eleanor didn't ask her outright about this alleged breakfast
meeting - uncertain as to whether or not she'd actually go
along with Hugh's bald-faced lie when pressed.
Except, really, she was already going along with the lie,
just by standing there as Hugh's exhibit A.
But Eleanor turned back to Trace to ask, "Why didn't you
just say so?"
"I did," he lied again, indignant now at the
injustice of her accusations. What a prick. "I said,
Someone must've been in my trailer, because it wasn't me,
but you weren't listening. You were blah, blah, blah,
bitching and moaning, ready to assume the worst the way you
always fucking do-"
"When you left for your meeting at Dr. Carter's
office," Hugh interrupted Trace, probably because he was
good at reading body language, and he knew that Alison was
about to reach out and smack the actor, or denounce them all
for the liars that they were, "did you lock your trailer
"I didn't." Trace looked properly chastised and
subdued. "Did you, Skip?"
His assistant shook his baseball cap-covered head, no.
"I didn't think we had to," Trace said.
"You better lock it from now on," Hugh advised him,
making a very real-seeming note in his BlackBerry.
"Someone probably invited an intern in to take a look,
and got a little early payback. I'm sorry about the
inconvenience, and the misunderstanding," he added with
an adorable smile at Eleanor, who was now in Trace's arms,
apologizing, which was giving Alison heartburn. "I'll
have a cleaning crew come in and... Have you checked to see
if anything was stolen?"
Trace shook his head. "I don't think anything was."
He looked at Skip, who shook his head, too. "No."
"That's good at least," Hugh said. "I'll make
sure it gets cleaned and is ready for you by your break. But
right now, Mr. Marcus, sir, I hate to do this to you after
such an upsetting morning, but your makeup call is in ten
minutes. You need to get to work."
"As do I," Alison spoke up, because she was damned
if she was going to be part of this ugly conspiracy and not
gain something from it. "Although, Mr. Marcus, perhaps
we can schedule another breakfast meeting for tomorrow. I
know how interested you are in finding out all that you can
about Silas Quinn and we've barely gotten started." She
turned to Hugh and gave him a tight smile. "I'll let you
check our schedules and set that up for us." The Because
you owe me, you little bastard, was silent.
But understood. Hugh nodded. Message received.
"Ninety-seven thousand," he started.
"Yeah, yeah," she said, as she turned away.
But this charlie foxtrot wasn't over yet.
Yes, that was Eleanor Marcus calling her name, in that Betty
Boop voice that Alison had never found particularly
appealing, even when the actress was a dewy-eyed teenager.
Most of the crowd had dispersed, which was good. Still, she
turned back, trying to unclench her teeth enough to give the
poor deceived woman a smile rather than a grimace. "Mrs.
Marcus," she said, bracing herself. Trace had gone into
his trailer, but Skip was still out there, watching them
from behind his mirrored sunglasses.
"I'm not acting anymore," Eleanor said. "It's a
choice. My choice."
It seemed like a non sequitur, a change of subject, which
was a relief, but she appeared to want a response, so Alison
nodded. "I'd heard that," she said. "It's a
"I hurt my back," Eleanor said, indulging in a
little lying herself. Apparently it was a hobby for these
people. In truth, the actress had stopped appearing in
movies because, at the ancient and gnarly age of
twenty-nine, she'd refused to let go of her youth-and the
doctors who'd tried to make her look eighteen again had
somehow botched the procedure, damaging the muscles in her
face. She was still beautiful, but she now had only one
expression. She'd had additional surgeries over the past
five years - or so the tabloids reported - trying, and
failing, to make it right.
"I'm sorry about that," Alison said as gently as she
could. She backed away, gesturing back the way she and Hugh
had come. "I'm melting out here. And I really need
"I've seen pictures of Melody Quinn," Eleanor said.
"She always looked so sad, so haunted-as if she knew
what was coming. She was so young when she died."
Melody Quinn had always stared soberly into the camera, as
did everyone who had tintypes taken at that time. Say
cheese! wasn't a photographer's battle cry until well after
the turn of the century. Until long after Melody Quinn had
met her tragic end.
"I would've loved to play her," Eleanor continued.
"Not now," she added with the slight movement of her
lips that was now her smile. "But back when I was her
age. She was only twenty-one, right?"
"She was," Alison said. "And yes, ma'am. You
would've been great."
It wasn't a lie, but Eleanor rolled her eyes as if it were.
"Whatever," she said, turning to go into the trailer
where her skunk of a husband was showering in preparation
for stepping into Silas Quinn's giant, honorable shoes. Hugh
was trying to slip away, unnoticed, but Alison quickly
"Don't you ever," she all but spat at him, her voice
low but deadly, as she hurried along beside him, down the
dusty street, "ever do that to me again."
"Ninety-seven-" he started, but she skidded to a
halt, catching his arm and spinning him toward her.
"Whoa!" One of the extras, a tall, lean cowboy type,
had been following them so closely, he nearly crashed into
But Alison ignored him as she jabbed one finger into Hugh's
face, nearly sticking it up his perfect nose. "Don't.
Start. I signed a contract with Logan Productions, not with
the devil. That poor girl-"
"That poor girl," Hugh interrupted her, "was
banging one of last season's American Idols, just last week,
in Vegas. She knows exactly what Trace does on set without
her. She just needed a plausible excuse to keep from looking
too foolish. That's what we gave her."
"We? Thanks so much, but next time leave me out of it.
Because I will not do that again. And if I were you, I
"Believe it or not," Hugh said, "it's part of my
job. I handle the talent."
"Well..." Alison sputtered. "Ew. Big honking ew.
It's not part of my job and..." The cowboy was hovering.
He'd backed off a bit in a show of giving them privacy, but
he was clearly waiting to talk to her. She spun toward him,
her voice more impatient than she'd intended. "Can I
"Um," he said.
"You were told to find me for costume approval," she
guessed as she scanned his clothes, adding, "Oh, no. No.
Nope. The jeans are too modern - they're your own, right?
They must've run out of your size."
He was tall - quite a few inches over six feet-with long
legs. And while the faded jeans he was wearing looked good
on him - extremely good - they wouldn't do.
"Paula!" Alison shouted. She'd spotted the intern
across the street over by the Feed and Grain Store, talking
with the second unit director Frank or Fred or whatever his
name was. And damnit, Hugh had taken the opportunity to
escape. He'd vanished completely, so Alison turned back to
tell the extra, "Even looser fitting jeans are still too
snug in the crotch. Plus, I can tell you're wearing briefs,
which weren't available until 1935. The things you learn
from being on a movie set are amazing, aren't they? The
boots are good, but you're going to have to lose the watch,
and that shirt isn't..."
She reached out to touch the fabric of his pale blue
workshirt. It was a soft cotton, but it had been
stone-washed, and the pre-fade was too uniform. No cowboy in
his right mind in 1898 would've bought a shirt that was
already worn out.
"No," Alison said again, asking, "Who dressed
you? It's all wrong. Except for the boots. And the hat. You
can keep the hat." That was one very authentic looking
off-white cowboy hat he was holding loosely in his big
hands. She raised her voice again. "Paula!"
"I think maybe you've mistaken me for someone else,
ma'am," the man finally said in a soft voice that had a
hint of a western drawl. "I'm not an extra for this
And Alison stopped examining his jeans and his shirt and
looked up - he was so tall she actually had to tilt her
head, which was rare - and into a face that she'd known for
Her mouth dropped open as she stared at him.
Wide cheekbones, narrow chin, big straight nose, elegant
lips, blue, blue eyes...
With the exception of his hair, which was golden blond, he
looked remarkably, eerily like the few rare pictures she'd
studied of Jamie "the Kid" Gallagher.
And if he wasn't an extra...
That meant he was the actor they'd found to play Gallagher.
Oh, big, wonderful hip-hip-hooray. This was too good.
Casting had way outdone themselves this time.
And sure, he wasn't perfect. He was quite a bit taller than
she believed Kid Gallagher had been. But he had the same
slender build, with those long legs that she'd already
noticed leading to narrow hips that angled upward to broad,
He was older than Gallagher, too, by a good fifteen years,
but that was okay. The makeup team could take some years off
the actor's face, no problem, the same way they could darken
his thick hair and make it wavier.
Alison laughed. He was perfect.
He was gazing back at her, one eyebrow slightly raised at
her intense scrutiny of his face.
"Sorry for staring, but..." She held out her hand to
him, laughing again. "I'm... so impressed. I'm Alison
Carter. And you're our Gallagher. Congratulations and
welcome to the set."
His hand felt cool against hers, despite the day's heat. He
had big fingers that were rough with calluses and a palm
that engulfed hers. Like many actors, this man no doubt had
been forced to support himself between jobs by doing manual
labor. Although after Quinn, that was going to change. There
would be no more ditch digging, landscaping or carpentry in
this man's bright and shiny future.
"Thank you," he said. "But, um, I'm not sure-"
"Have you got a minute to come to my trailer?" she
interrupted him. He'd have plenty of time to be humble
later. "I've got tons of information to give you before
someone else grabs you."
Before the actor could answer her, Paula jogged over,
calling, "I'm sorry, Dr. Carter. How can I help you?"
"Coffee," Alison said. "Two cups - in my office,
bless you, and..." She looked at their lovely Gallagher.
"You must've just arrived on set. Have you had
breakfast?" She didn't wait for him to answer.
"Bring over a breakfast tray, too. Thank you, Paula."
He looked surprised and a little uncomfortable as the intern
hurried away. "That's really not necessary."
"Get used to it," she told him, walking backward so
that she could look at him as she led the way to the row of
production trailers, one of which was her office. The
resemblance was really remarkable. "It comes with the
territory. Where on earth did they find you?"
"Find me?" he echoed. He had a slightly puzzled look
on his face, as if she were speaking a foreign language and
he was having trouble translating.
"Strange new world, huh?" she said. "I'm with
you there, Alice. I fell down the same rabbit hole myself,
just a few weeks ago." She rephrased her question.
"Where are you from?"
"Alaska," he said.
Alison laughed. "No wonder you look shell-shocked.
You're a long way from home. I'm from Boston myself and
every time I go outside, I feel like I'm stepping into an
oven. People are going to tell you that you'll get used to
the heat, but they're lying. You won't. You're going to have
to drink a lot of water. And always carry a hat."
He smiled at that, and it softened his face and made at
least five of those extra years disappear. "It's been a
while," he said as they crossed the street and headed
back behind the town's single motel, where the production
trailers were hidden out of camera range, "but I've
spent plenty of time in the desert. I know how to handle
heat." He cleared his throat. "What I can't quite
figure out is... how did you know who I am? Did... someone
call you or...?"
"I haven't checked messages yet this morning. Truth is,
I recognized you." Alison took out her keys as she led
him to the narrow door of her office, unlocking it.
"It's been a particularly crazy day." She stepped
back and gestured for him to go in first. "Better duck.
This thing is a death trap for tall people. I can't tell you
how many times I've hit my head. You'd think I'd eventually
He had to both duck and angle his shoulders slightly to make
it through the door and into the trailer.
It was silly for her to have let him go first, because now
he stood there, at the top of the stairs, gazing at the
piles of books and papers that crowded not just her desk but
every available surface-including the enormous leather sofa
that lined one whole side of the tiny room. The thing
must've been built in there -- or the trailer constructed
around it -- according to some actor's contract, circa 1985.
"Sorry about the mess," she said, shutting the door
firmly behind her in a pathetic attempt to keep the cool air
in and the scorching heat out. "And it's not really as
bad as it looks, I know exactly where everything is, so let
me... Excuse me." She squeezed past him - he was
extremely solid in addition to being tall - and cleared off
space on the sofa for him to sit.
"Organization is actually one of my strengths," she
added, "but - and I don't know how many movie sets
you've been on - but everyone who knocks on my door needs
something done immediately, top priority, drop everything,
including whatever five minutes ago's screaming priority
was, so filing nearly always gets pushed to tomorrow. Sit.
Please. I figure I'll get it all filed the day after we
"I haven't," he said as he lowered his big frame
into the huge couch, making it look not exactly tiny, but
certainly more average-sized. "Been on a movie set
"So it's been stage plays, then," she deduced as she
moved behind her cluttered desk and sat down, too. "This
must be so exciting for you."
"Um," he said, glancing around the room again.
"You're probably stressed about how last minute this all
is," she sympathized. "We've already started
shooting, and you've got a lot of research to do in a short
amount of time to get up to speed. But don't worry. I'm here
to help you. It's going to be fine. You probably have a
million questions, but I want to preface this part of our
discussion by freely and openly confessing that I am and
always have been an admirer of Silas Quinn. I've done
extensive research on this man who was, in my opinion,
easily the most tragically heroic figure in the history of
the American West. Needless to say - but I'll say it
anyway-my opinion of Kid Gallagher is neither charitable nor
Their Gallagher was nodding. "I've read your book. You
made that... pretty clear."
"But I don't go into much detail about Kid Gallagher's
long list of crimes," she told him, happily surprised
that he'd already read her book, without her having to push
it on him. That was always awkward - or at least it had been
with both Trace Marcus and Winter Baxter, the actress who
was playing Melody. Neither of them were big readers, and
their eyes had immediately glazed over when she'd pulled out
the thick book. "And the list was long. Gallagher had
quite a rap sheet, so to speak, starting right when he left
home at age fifteen."
She used her toe to open the file cabinet that was wedged in
next to her desk, and pulled out her hefty Gallagher file.
"He came from Philadelphia, from a wealthy family,"
she continued as she handed the actor the file, which he
opened immediately and began looking through - his eagerness
winning him even more points in her opinion. "And
although there's no record of this, I've always imagined him
as one of those horrible little boys who drowned puppies and
pulled the legs off insects."
He looked up at that, glancing briefly around the room
before meeting her eyes, his dismay apparent.
"I know," she admitted. "There's no proof - it's
just my prejudice showing. But after he left home, his
family never mentioned him again. It was as if he'd never
existed - as if they'd disowned him and didn't want him to
come back. One theory is that he was gay and his family's
rejection turned him into an outcast and it wasn't a big
step from that to outlaw, but there's also no proof of that
so... I've spoken to Henry Logan at length about the Kid's
character - have you talked to him yet?"
He looked up from the file again, his dark blue eyes somber.
"No. I haven't. Um..." He cleared his throat,
glanced around the room again. "Dr. Carter-"
She cut him off again, which was probably rude, but he was a
slower talker, and she had information that she knew would,
immediately, relieve some of his trepidation. "I know
Henry's got this reputation for being a real perfectionist
when he directs his movies, but I've found him to be open to
discussion. He's sincerely interested in listening to
different ideas, so don't be shy about speaking up. But the
one thing you should know is that he's particularly
interested in making Kid Gallagher multidimensional in his
film. All of the other movies about the gunfight at the Red
Rock Saloon have portrayed the Kid as psychotic, which comes
out as extremely one-note. But something I've heard Henry
say, over and over, as we've discussed this particular
character, is that no one is ever the bad guy in his own
movie, or in his own life. And that was probably true of Kid
Gallagher. He probably didn't see himself as a villain."
She couldn't keep herself from adding, "Despite the fact
that he was a bank robber, a kidnapper, and a cold-blooded
Their Gallagher smiled at that. "Bank robber, kidnapper,
and cold-blooded killer," he repeated, shaking his head
and laughing softly. "What if I told you that you were a
hundred percent wrong?"