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Beauty and the Bitch -- Jasmine Haynes

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Beauty or the Bitch
An erotic contemporary retelling of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast
Copyright Jasmine Haynes

“a wonderfully emotional re-telling of the old favorite.”
A Romance Review

“I was truly moved by the time I reached the end ... and won't forget it for a very long time.”
Sensual Romance Reviews

Reporter Dexter King is about to get the story of a lifetime. Shelby Stewart was the hottest rising star in Hollywood until suddenly, she was cursed. Retreating to her mountain hideaway, far from that fairy tale life, she hasn’t been seen in ten years. Now Dex will ferret out the truth behind her fall from Hollywood grace. But will he find a beauty? Or a bitch?

[Previously published in 2003 in the anthology Ain’t Your Mama’s Bedtime Stories]

 

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Beauty or the Bitch
Copyright Jasmine Haynes

Chapter One

“I’m giving the Eden Alexander exclusive to Neal Pisquet.”

Dexter King jammed his fingertips to his temples to make sure his head didn’t freaking explode. Fresh out of college, Pisquet had worked for the magazine less than a year. “You’re doing what?”

His editor, Baxter Blevins, didn’t even look up from the copy page he was reviewing. “Neal needs a chance to hone his interviewing skills.”

“What interviewing skills?” Neal “Pipsqueak” Pisquet didn’t know a colon (the punctuation part) from a colon (the body part). And Dex would do anything necessary to make sure Pipsqueak didn’t get that interview. Eden Alexander was his. Not only was this the first interview she’d granted in ten years, an exclusive Blevins had secured God only knew how, she was also the most revered star in Hollywood, even if she hadn’t made a film in that same amount of time. She was a screen legend. And Dex’s secret teenage passion when she was at the height of her career. Doing the interview was more than the perfect professional move for him, it was a personal dream. “Baxter, you can’t give this to Pipsqueak. You can’t afford to let him blow it.”

Blevins looked up, raised one brow, then lowered his voice to a deadly note. “I can do anything I want, Dex.”

Dex usually knew how to manage Blevins better than this. But this was the most important interview of his career, maybe his life. And he was blowing it. Calm down. Manage the old geezer.

“Of course, you can do whatever you want, Baxter. I was merely suggesting that perhaps Pipsqueak isn’t the best choice. You need someone more seasoned.” Dex had been doing interviews for years. He knew how to relax, how to cajole, how to wheedle out all the dirty little details that no one else could dream of getting. Not that someone like Eden Alexander had any dirty details to reveal.

Blevins tapped his pencil on the blotter. “Tell you what I’ll do, Dex. I’ll make you a deal. I want to do a follow-up interview in the same issue. A whatever-happened-to kind of thing. You get me that interview, and I’ll give you the Eden Alexander exclusive.”

Shit, that was it. Blevins had planned this all along. “Who do you want?”

“Shelby Stewart.”

“What the hell for?”

“Eden Alexander knew her. It’ll make great copy. I want you to find her and get her to tell you the story of her fall from Hollywood grace.”

Ten years ago, Shelby Stewart had been flying high at the pinnacle of success. She’d reportedly commanded sixteen million a movie, rare at the time, especially for a female star barely twenty-five. She’d also earned a reputation of as prima donna, though Dex would have used the word “bitch.” Then, for no apparent reason, because no one cared if you were a prima donna bitch, or even a drug addict, as long as you made the producers big money, her career took a nosedive. She couldn’t pay anyone to give her a part. The one B-movie she managed to get had tanked at the box office, going to video in less than a month.

At the age of twenty-five, Shelby Stewart was cursed, her star falling far faster than it had risen. She’d reportedly fled to her mountain vacation home in the Sierras, far from Hollywood and the fairy tale life she’d once led. She hadn’t been seen or heard from since.

No one really knew why. Because Shelby had been good, extraordinary. One day, she might have been the legend Eden Alexander was now.

Dex resisted chewing the inside of his cheek to bits. “So, I get the Stewart story, you’ll let me have Alexander?”

“That’s the deal.” Blevins smiled. Like a shark. “After this length of time, she’ll be a hard nut to crack. You’re the only one I can trust to get the story.”

His editor was excellent at buttering up, his skill unparalleled. But Dex knew it would decrease his future bargaining power to give in too easily. “Let me think about it.”

“You give me Shelby Stewart, and I’ll let you have complete editorial control over both interviews.”

Complete editorial control? Unheard of. “Why do you want Stewart so bad, Baxter? There’s something you’re not telling me.”

Blevins held out his hands, palms up. “Nothing up these sleeves, Dex. I just want both stories. And I trust you to get them.”

Trust? Baxter Blevins? He’d be out of his mind if he trusted his boss. But Dex could taste his by-line on the Eden Alexander exclusive. “You’ll put that in writing?”

“In writing, my man.”

“When do you want the Stewart story?”

“Yesterday.”

Shit. Damn. Something was up. But if Dex wanted Eden Alexander, he didn’t have much choice. After that interview, he could write his own ticket. It was even worth killing for. He sure as hell couldn’t let Pipsqueak get to her first. “All right. I’ll do it.”

But he had the sinking feeling he was selling his soul, and Shelby Stewart’s, to the devil himself.

* * * * *

He’d already lost precious hours on the Internet tracking her, hours he couldn’t afford, but he should have checked the weather report before heading out for the Stewart woman’s mountain retreat. Mountains meant snow. Dammit. He didn’t have chains, and the windshield wipers had proven only good enough to smear the falling snowflakes across his windscreen. He couldn’t see a thing. But at least he was almost there.

His car hit a patch of black ice, and the back end went into a skid. Dex white-knuckled the wheel, over-corrected, sliding all the hell over the road, then slammed into a pile of rocks that had fallen off the side of the mountain. Totally out of control, the car flung itself into the opposite lane, then plunged down a steep embankment.

He was a dead man. With branches flashing by the hurtling vehicle, he wished he’d called his mother before he’d left. And his sister. He regretted the time he’d told his best friend about his sister’s secret crush, was sorry they’d laughed at her and scarred her for life. Especially since she was only thirteen, had braces and no chest. What about the time he—

Then the car slammed into a tree.

* * * * *

Dex couldn’t say how long he’d been out. Only that by some miracle, he was still alive. His head ached where he’d rammed it into the steering wheel. Why the hell hadn’t he bought a new car with an airbag? What did money matter when you took your life in your hands?

Christ, he was cold. His fingers had numbed, and the tips of his ears hurt like hell. Reaching for the cell phone in his inside pocket, he could barely feel it. And pushing the damn little on button...nothing. When had he last charged it? What kind of idiot drove into the mountains in the dead of night with a dead cell phone? Dex groaned.

How far had he fallen before the car hit the tree? He looked out the back window. Layered in snow, he couldn’t see a thing through it. Opening the glove box, he grabbed his leather gloves and pulled them on. His fingers felt like fat sausages, weak at the joints and difficult to bend. He managed to pull up on the handle and shove the door open. His foot sank in ankle-deep snow. A deadly wind chopped at his bare face and sent ice shivers up his legs.

Bracing himself on the open door, he stared up into the darkness. With the falling flakes swirling in the wind, he couldn’t see the top of the embankment. Which meant no one would be able to see his car from the roadway. He’d bet the snow had completely covered his skid marks, eliminating the chance that someone would notice a car had gone over the side.

The lighted dial of his watch said it was midnight.

Fuck, fuck. No one expected him. He certainly hadn’t called ahead to announce his arrival. He’d wanted to show up on Shelby Stewart’s doorstep, figuring she wouldn’t, or couldn’t, send him away.

No cell phone. A howling blizzard. A crumpled car. A mountain to climb. Soaked shoes, a light leather jacket, paper-thin gloves, and no hat to cover his frozen ears. On the bright side, he’d only been about two miles from Shelby Stewart’s mountain hideaway.

Two miles, and God knew how long a climb to get back to the road.

He’d survived the crash, but he was a dead man for sure.

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