When monsters need a makeover, they head for the one place that can make it happen. Hollywood.

Luke is desperate to save his people. A lifetime of sneaking in to human houses and watching movies has convinced him that if he can make a great movie about monsters, humanity will change its opinion of them. With his friends at his side, all in shiny new human bodies, Luke heads for Tinsel Town.


A rising Hollywood producer, all-business Lena knows a good story when she sees it. Luke? He’s just another amateur who wants to get famous. But Luke’s too gorgeous to pass up. And there’s something vulnerable about him that leads her to throw caution to the wind and invite him to dinner.

One night of incredible sex later, Lena wakes up next to the surprise of her life. She’s sleeping next to a monster. Literally.

Appearances aside, she finds herself wanting to help Luke save his people. But they’ve got more to worry about than just human prejudice.

Some of the monsters would rather stay in the closet—and to make them all stay there, they’re willing to kill.

Lights...Camera, Monsters

Prologue

The city was full of life. From high above he could see it, smell it. He wanted that life, ached with the desire for it. From this elevated height the wind tasted of salt, of the sea. He narrowed his eyes, peering through the haze of light that blanketed the city to see the dark sea beyond.

He fanned his wings, letting the salt-flavored breeze ruffle the jagged edges.

Beside him two other pairs of wings spread, great arches of dark and light against the indigo sky.

“Will they help us?” his companion asked.

He did not have answers, only hopes, ones he was tired of voicing. Without aid their people would be forced to war or will themselves into death. This city, the possibilities it held, the humans who thrived here, were one of their last hopes.

“Let’s fly,” was his reply.

One by one they leapt from the rooftop, wings snapping like sails of the finest ship as they soared above the sprawling city of light and dreams.

Chapter One

“Good morning,” the dapper young man at the reception desk chirped.

“Good morning, Kurt.” Lena held out her arm, Kurt snapped a stack of mail into her hand, took her nearly empty paper coffee cup and replaced it with a full mug of piping hot mocha. Lena never even slowed down.

Bumping open her office door with a hip, Lena skirted her glass desk and settled into her chair. Within an hour she’d gone through her mail, checked the industry blogs and compiled a media book for their last project, an indie film that had done well at Tribeca.

It was barely eight a.m.

Sipping the dregs of her mocha, Lena cleared off her desk and picked up a notebook. She had an eight thirty a.m. meeting with the whole office. Swiveling in her chair, Lena examined the blown up and framed cover of The Hollywood Reporter that hung on the wall.

In the photo, Lena and her four best friends, each wearing a bright jewel-toned color, stared out at the camera. Lena stood in the center wearing royal blue and holding a sign that said “Calypso Productions”. The title beneath the picture read, “Hollywood’s New Elite”. In smaller script it said, “Five friends, each with a talent of their own, open a production house reminiscent of old Hollywood’s powerhouse studios”.

Smiling, Lena rose to her feet, brushing her fingers against the frame of the poster before heading out of the office into the conference room.


“What’s next?”

“New client.” Jane said, checking her agenda.

“I thought we agreed we weren’t taking on new clients,” Akta griped. Feet on the table, she leaned back, testing the bounds of her ergonomic, executive chair.

“Some of us don’t have cushy savings to fall back on and need the extra work,” Margo snarked. Akta stuck her tongue out at Margo.

Lena, their default leader, though some of the other A-types in the room might have disputed that leadership, reined the group in.

Their weekly meetings were both enjoyable and frustrating. Going into business with her four best friends from college had been a risky decision, but it paid off. They were following their dream, making and producing original and innovative movies and TV shows. However, the years of familiarity meant that behind closed doors their maturity level with one another had a tendency to deteriorate. Lena tapped her pen against the high gloss conference table and tried to remind her friends they were professionals.

“We’re always open to new projects, and these gentlemen got through Kurt, so they must be good.”

Kurt, their receptionist, stuck his head around the door and frowned at them. “I’m not bringing these guys in until you look professional. Cali, adjust your boobs, Akta, fluff your hair. Trust me, these guys are worth it.”

He pulled the conference room door closed. Lena, eyebrows arched, looked at Jane, who sat across the table from her. With a shrug Jane pulled out a tube of lip gloss and applied it blind. Akta reached over and snatched a thick script from Mercedes, aka Cali. Flipping the script shut, Akta tossed it onto the table where it landed with a meaty thud.

“What is that? War and Peace?”

“It’s The Octopus,” when the others stared blankly at her, Cali added, “Frank Norris?”

“Sorry, Cali, no idea,” Akta said cheerfully.

“Illiterate plebeians.”

“You’re such a charmer.”

Cali leaned forward in her chair, reached into her fitted, corset-style pinstriped top and repositioned her boobs. Akta leaned forward in the same manner and scrubbed her fingers through her hair, before flipping up. Once Cali had cleavage enough to kill a man and Akta’s soft cloud of dark hair floated around her head and shoulders, Lena hit the intercom button in the console on the conference table.

“Kurt, show them in please.”

Around the table the women straightened, the easy mannerisms of years of friendship melting away to reveal glass-sharp businesswomen.

The conference room door opened. Kurt stepped inside, holding the door wide for their prospective clients. One by one the three divinely gorgeous men walked in.

Lena kept a cool professional smile, even as her blood hummed.

The men took seats across the table from the women, and Kurt poured them each a glass of water, giving Lena a chance to inspect them.

The first was your classic California surfer god. His tan was pure Mother Nature, not fake and bake, and his highlights appeared to be from the same source. Gold with pure white streaks, his hair curled and waved around his face. It was surfer length—just below his ears, but not long enough for sci-fi geek. His tight green T-shirt showed strong shoulders and delectable biceps.

The second was archetypal indie British rock guy. Chestnut hair was styled to frame his face in a close-cut cap. Next to the surfer his physique was slender, but by no means skinny. He was sporting layers: T-shirt, button-down and jacket, all stylish.

The last one to enter took a seat in the center, between the other two. While Lena admired the first two for their distinct beauty and style, it was an academic admiration, but this one—he spoke to her.

Caramel skin, a gift of birth, fitted over high cheekbones and a square jaw. His deep-set eyes were dark brown, with straight black brows above. His hair was black and high gloss, draping over one eye. His white on white embroidered button-down was shabby chic, with a purposefully wrinkled look. The color set off his skin.

Lena forced a breath in and out, pulling her attention away from him as Kurt poured the last of the water and skirted out the way. As he pulled the door closed, Kurt sent them all a significant glance. There was a brief pause, then Lena saw the intercom light blink on. She flipped it off, imagined Kurt’s cursing at having been denied eavesdropping rights and smiled at their prospective clients. She had to force herself to include all three in the smile, rather than just the exotic eye candy.

“Gentlemen, welcome to Calypso Productions. I’m Lena, creative director and one of the producers.”

Lena glanced at Jane, who picked up the cue. “I’m Jane, our writer.”

“Hello, gentlemen, my name is Margo, and I’m the other producer and manager of Calypso.”

“Mercedes, I direct.”

“And last but never least, I’m Akta, art director, and actor.”

Lena waited for a reaction to Akta’s introduction. Of the five of them, Akta was the only one with immediate recognition. Her staring role in an award winning indie production had landed her on the acting map, her ethnicity making the accomplishment all the more outstanding. Her decision to shun blockbuster roles in favor of continuing to work on more artistic pieces had raised a few eyebrows in Hollywood, but gained her, and Calypso, a lot of respect.

Usually clients were the most excited to meet her. They enjoyed the idea of having a built in actress at the production company.

These three paid Akta no more attention than they had any of the others. Akta blinked twice in surprise, though her smile never faltered. There was an awkward moment of silence before the gentlemen introduced themselves.

“I’m Michael,” said the surfer.

“Henry,” added the indie rocker.

Dark and dangerous looked right at Lena as he introduced himself. “My name is Luke.”

The room fell into a second awkward silence, but Lena hardly noticed. Gaze locked with Luke’s, it was like tunnel vision, the rest of the world blurry and out of focus. There was no arrogant L.A. smirk, or hard-ass barracuda New York grin on his face. His beautifully full lips were unsmiling, but not unhappy. The intensity of his gaze didn’t feel threatening, but he still seemed dangerous in the way only a truly beautiful man can be.

“So, what can we help you with?” Margo demanded. Lena had let the silence stretch too long, and Margo jumped into the void with her less than gentle question.

Luke broke the eye contact with Lena, turning his focus to Margo. “We are looking for a company to help us tell a story.” His voice was low and rich, with the slightest touch of an accent.

“How would you like to tell this story?” Jane asked.

“That’s what we need you to tell us. We have a story, but we don’t know which…”

“Medium?” Akta offered.

“Yes, what medium,” he smiled at Akta, “would be best.”

“Then can you tell us something about your story?” Margo asked, a hint of annoyance working its way into her voice.

“Certainly,” Henry added. Because of her first impression, Lena expected him to speak with an accent, but, besides precise pronunciation, his voice was unremarkable. “We want you to tell our story.”

Jane barely repressed a moan, Cali reached for the abandoned script and Margo slumped in her chair.

Lena sighed but kept her smile. She was already chalking this up as a lost cause. Almost everyone in the world thought their story was interesting enough to be a movie and 99% of them were wrong. There were places, companies, who would make any script that came across the table if the client were paying them to do it. Calypso was not that kind of company. They created and produced stories beyond the ordinary.

These boys probably had some heartwarming story of lifelong friendship they thought would make a great movie or TV series. Maybe it would, but Calypso wouldn’t produce it.

“Well, gentlemen, as much as we would like to help you, we don’t produce stories for payment.”

“That’s not what we want. We don’t have any money.” Henry replied.

“Fantastic, just what we needed,” Jane murmured.

Lena let her smile slip to a serious expression. They all had work to do, and this was just wasting time. How had these guys managed to get past Kurt? Usually he turned people like this away. She looked them over again and answered her own question, making a mental note to remind Kurt he needed to pre-screen everyone, even the hot ones.

Placing her elbows on the table, Lena leaned in, “I’m sorry to say that, while your story is undoubtedly very interesting, we have stringent standards regarding what we produce. If you are looking for a company who will make a movie to your specifications, we can suggest several other production houses.”

The gentlemen looked at each other. Luke leaned forward, mirroring Lena’s posture. He smiled tentatively, and the hint of vulnerability was incredibly appealing.

“I think we’ve done a poor job of explaining everything. Is there a…uh…less intimidating forum in which I might be able to talk to you?” Luke waved his hand to indicate the setting.

Lena looked around. Five powerful, gorgeous women, a boardroom with a view of L.A. County Museum of Art through the window at their backs and white floral arrangements worth over two hundred dollars a pop, might be a bit intimidating. She looked at Luke, their eyes met and the tunnel vision returned.

“How about dinner tonight?” she heard herself say.

Luke smiled, and Lena sighed in pleasure.


“What are you thinking?” Jane’s voice came at her in surround sound from the speakers in Lena’s luxury SUV.

“I’m thinking that my going to dinner with Luke got us out of that meeting. I asked Margo to talk to Kurt about being more discriminating.”

“It was almost worth it just to look at them, the blond was gorgeous.”

Jane was, of course, cracked in the head, as the blond was nothing compared to Luke’s dark, exotic beauty.

“But,” Jane continued, “I don’t think you offered dinner out of the goodness of your heart.”

“Will you feel any better if I tell you I have every intention of seducing Luke?”

“Why?”

“Why not? He’s gorgeous, articulate and interesting.”

“That’s what I thought. As long as you’re being honest with yourself.”

“It’s been too long, I think I might be a virgin again.”

“Three months does not make you a born-again virgin.” Jane’s voice dripped with sarcasm.

“Don’t be bitter, Jane darling. The only one keeping you from having wall-banging sex is yourself.”

“I have standards.”

“You have issues.”

“You’re a tramp,” Jane snarked, more affection than disdain in her voice.

Smiling, Lena turned into her building’s driveway, tapping the door opener. “I’m going into the garage. I’m going to lose you.”

“Alright, be careful, have fun and call me with details.”

“Have your own sex and you won’t need to live vicariously.”

“Bye.”

“Bye.”

Lena pulled in and parked in her assigned space. Slinging her slightly battered Chanel handbag over one shoulder, Lena climbed out and raced for the elevators. She was running a bit later than she’d wanted.

It was six now, and they were dining at eight. She had two hours to clean both her apartment and herself. Letting herself in, Lena cast a critical eye over her apartment. She paid a small fortune every month for her two bedroom, two bath apartment in Miracle Mile. Luckily she spent very little time here, so there wasn’t much mess to clean up. A few moments in the kitchen shoving boxes of cereal and granola bars into cabinets, and wine glasses into the dishwasher, had that room presentable. Next was the living room, which was liberally scattered with shoes.

Still wearing her purse, Lena gathered up armfuls of shoes and headed for the bedroom. As she returned heels to their shoeboxes, Lena thought about Luke.

Despite her teasing with Jane, Lena didn’t really plan to seduce him. She was pragmatic enough to know that sleeping with a man she’d met for less than an hour was dangerous. There was no denying her physical attraction to him, but that really wasn’t enough to risk sex with him. That didn’t mean she couldn’t enjoy his company for the evening. A night out with a gorgeous man was a reward in and of itself. Besides that, though she’d never admit it, the brief moment of vulnerability she’d glimpsed had touched Lena. Though Luke and his friends looked like Hollywood players, Lena suspected they were novices, and probably woefully out of their depths. The least she could do was impart some advice, maybe steer him towards writing a book rather than trying to make a movie.

She kept out a pair of strappy black heels and pulled down an empire waist cocktail gown in midnight blue. Lena grinned ruefully at her choice of attire. The outfit screamed seduction. While she didn’t plan on seducing him, she wasn’t ruling out the possibility.

They were having dinner at Lawry’s in Beverly Hills, a safe choice for wining and dining. As it was a Wednesday night, it had only required minimal pull to get the reservation.

Laying out the dress and shoes she jumped into the shower.

Chapter Two

Luke checked his reflection in a broken mirror propped against the wall of the warehouse. He smoothed his shirt until it lay flat against his stomach and then fastened the single button of the dark navy suit jacket. Luke compared himself to a picture he’d torn out of a magazine. In the photo a slender man wore a lavender shirt under a navy suit with black boots. Luke had opted to leave only the top button of the shirt undone, rather then the top three as the picture did. He hadn’t been able to find black ankle boots like in the photo, so had settled for a pair of black dress shoes.

“Looks good,” Henry added, standing behind him, gaze moving between the picture and Luke.

“Were you able to find any information on the restaurant?” Luke asked as he fussed with his collar.

“It’s a steak house.”

“That’s cow meat, right?”

“Yes.”

“Well,” Luke tugged the jacket down into place, “that should be all right. What time is it?”

“Six thirty.”

“I should go.”

“Do you have money for the cab?”

Luke pulled out the worn, white envelope he used as a wallet. He carefully counted out the unfamiliar money. “Three hundred dollars, do you think that’s enough?”

“I looked up the address of the restaurant, it will be at least fifty dollars for the cab.”

“What were the prices for the cow meat?”

“Not listed.”

Bitter experience had taught Luke that this was a bad sign. Giving up on his reflection, Luke turned to Michael, who was seated on the floor of the abandoned warehouse they called home, flipping through a variety of magazines and newspapers.

“Do you have any money?”

Without looking, Michael pulled an envelope, similar to the one Luke held, from his pocket and held it out. Luke pulled two hundred dollars from the envelope and passed it back to Michael.

Henry came up beside them as Michael folded his newspaper and looked up.

“Are you ready?” Henry asked.

“I am,” Luke assured the other two. They all realized that the meeting this morning had been a disaster. They needed Calypso Productions if their plan was going to work. Luke tried not to think how much was riding on this meal. The three of them were in this together, but he felt responsible for the success of the whole venture, as he was the one who’d dragged the other two out into the world with nothing more than a vague understanding of the humans, and a dream.

“What are you going to do if she wants to have sex?” Michael posed the question on all of their minds.

“Do you think she does?” Luke asked.

Henry shrugged and Michael fished around for a copy of Maxim. “She asked you on a date, that usually means sex.”

Luke’s stomach knotted with anxiety. “I’ve never had sex with a human woman before. What do I do?”

“Don’t look at me, I’ve never had sex with a human either, though she shouldn’t be that different from a succubus, they’re all cut from the same cloth,” Henry added.

“Yeah, but there’s thousands of years of evolution in between.” Luke looked anxiously to Michael, who was ripping sex-tip articles out of magazines.

“Here,” Michael shoved a handful of articles at Luke, “read these on the way.”

The top article was titled: “Make Friends with the Little Man in the Boat”.

“Thanks, Michael.” Folding the papers, Luke stuffed them into his pocket, nodded to Henry, and headed out the door. He had a half-hour walk before he reached a road with a payphone where a cab could pick him up. One of the problems with squatting in an abandoned warehouse in the Port of L.A. was the lack of easy transportation. He kept the pace light, having discovered that human bodies sweat, and it was not considered attractive. After all of his careful work obtaining this outfit, the last thing he wanted to do was ruin it.

The crunch of papers in his pocket as he walked brought Luke’s mind around to the possibility of what could happen tonight. Lena. He tested the name out, liking the way it rolled over his tongue.

Thinking back on the meeting, Luke admitted he liked everything about Lena. Her hair was a pretty, soft brown. It had been pushed back behind her shoulders, so the sides framed her face. Soft lips, tinted pink, a straight nose and sky blue eyes completed her face. There was something about the set of her mouth, as if she were constantly flirting with a smile.

He’d had only a brief glimpse of her body when she rose at the end of the meeting. She was slender, a long cool line from shoulder to hip. The dark-colored skirt and fitted off-the-shoulder sweater set off her creamy, pale skin and exposed delicate collarbones. He mentally stripped away the clothes, imagining her soft white flesh exposed and vulnerable, waiting for him. Luke closed his eyes for a moment as desire danced through his bloodstream. It had been too long since he touched a female, and touching Lena would be more than touching just any female. She would be his first human.

Ducking through a hole in the fence, Luke started down the access road to the pay-phone.


An hour later Luke slipped into a booth across from Lena. It was eight fifteen, and he was late.

“Lena, I’m sorry, there was traffic.”

“That’s no problem, I’m glad you were able to make it.” Lena raised a glass of pale gold liquid to her lips. She’d smiled when he sat down, but the smile did not reach her eyes. If he had to guess, Luke would say she was mad.

The waiter popped up next to his elbow, and Luke ordered tequila on the rocks. The waiter moved away, and Luke turned to see Lena’s raised eyebrows.

“Tequila?” she asked.

Luke had no idea what was wrong with ordering tequila. The other places he’d eaten had been fine with that.

“Is tequila a…poor choice?” Flustered and anxious, Luke nervously smoothed the front of his shirt. His bangs had fallen into his eye, so Luke scooped them to the side, hoping his hair still looked like the picture he’d modeled it after.

His anxious fussing seemed to amuse Lena, and she smiled, though it was a soft thing, without malice. “Tequila is a fine choice. So where were you coming from that you got stuck in traffic?”

“Uh, near the port.”

“The Port of L.A.? That is quite a drive, I’m sorry, if you’d told me I could have picked someplace closer to you.”

“Oh no, this is fine. I’ve never been here, and I like trying new restaurants.”

“Me too. I’m such a foodie. Where have you tried lately?”

Luke looked around the maroon and brown interior of Lawry’s, each table set with linen and silver. No place he’d tried was anything like this. Most restaurant ventures started and ended with recommendations from cabbies.

“Well, uh, nothing quite this fancy, but there was this taco place, in the valley…”

“Hugo’s?”

“Oh, uh, yeah.”

“I love Hugo’s. What combination did you try?”

Luke stared at Lena, wondering if she were laughing at him, but her interest and excitement seemed genuine. It was hard to imagine the brunette beauty, who looked edible in dark blue, hair loose in soft waves over her shoulders, standing outside the small taco hut, munching on a burrito as juice dripped down her chin.

Luke tentatively relayed his menu choices, and Lena offered him a few suggestions. The conversation continued, and quickly focused on hole-in-the-wall cheap food. Luke’s puzzlement was soon replaced by delight as Lena revealed that she was just as willing to eat at the cheap places as the expensive ones. The few other people he’d met who worked in movies, or “the industry” as they all called it, had only talked about whom they’d seen at the latest posh restaurants.

They covered Mexican and pizza, Chinese and Korean BBQ. Without thinking, Luke admitted that he’d never had three a.m. delivery of Thai food, as no Thai place would deliver to them. Lena blinked and sat back in her chair, apparently baffled by the idea of a locale outside Thai delivery. Luke held his breath, wondering if she would press him for details about where he lived, but Lena finally muttered, “Well, I guess you are in South Bay,” and the moment passed.

Their salads arrived, and Luke carefully stabbed a forkful and brought it to his mouth. There was some shredded red thing amid the candied nuts and tangy cheese that tasted foul, but he kept chewing. Lena was carefully pushing the red stuff off to the side. When she noticed he was watching, she smiled ruefully.

“I know, I know, I’m a complete philistine, but I hate beets.”

Luke looked down at his own bowl and started pushing his off to the side. Beets. He made a mental note to avoid those in the future. “I don’t like them either, but I didn’t know if it would be appropriate to remove them.”

“I promise not to tell on you, if you don’t tell on me. It’ll be our secret.” Lena smiled again, and this time there was something else in the smile, something a bit naughty, as if the word “secret” implied things he couldn’t even guess at.

They made it through salads and the start of entrees before the conversation turned to business matters.

“So, Luke, can you tell me a little bit about what you’re looking for?”

Laying his knife on the side of his plate Luke looked up, taking several deep-bracing breaths. This was it, his chance to make right what he’d done wrong this morning.

“We have a story to tell, and we think the best way to do it is through movies or a TV show.”

“Why do you think that?”

“We want to change public opinion about…something, and movies and media seem to have the most influence over how hum…um, people think about things.”

“What does this have to do with you and your friends?” Lena asked.

“We want to change the public’s opinion about us, about the three of us.”

“Ah, the three of you are…together.”

“Yes we’re together.” They’d left everything they knew behind to enter the human world.

Lena sat back in her chair and laughed a little. Luke was struck by the feeling that he’d just done something wrong.

“Lena?”

“Sorry, I guess my radar must be off. So tell me more about Michael and Henry, how did you get together?”

“We were raised together, like brothers.”

“Ah, that certainly makes the relationship more complicated, how did your families handle it?”

How did she know their fathers were angry with them? Luke narrowed his eyes, looking at her with his second sight—vision that could reveal what was beneath the surface. There was a band of gold intelligence around her forehead, pulsing blue strength of spirit over her heart, but she was undeniably human.

If she was human, where was she getting these odd questions? Luke reviewed his conversation with her, and in a snap, realized what he’d said. He may not have a good understanding of humans, but there were some things you picked up after living in L.A.

“Wait, wait, I’m not gay.”

Lena slumped in her seat, looking relieved. “Oh thank God, I thought my gaydar was on the fritz, thought I should know better. The good looking ones are never batting for my team.”

He didn’t really know what she was talking about, but Luke hurried on. “I’m not gay, and neither are Michael or Henry, we’re just friends.”

Lena cocked her head to the side. “If the story you want to tell isn’t about your three-way relationship, what is it about?”

Luke certainly wasn’t going to tell her here, in fact, the plan was to avoid telling her the full truth for as long as possible. “It’s about us, about what we are.”

“And what are you?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Lena reached across the table and grabbed his wrist, two fingers settling on the soft inside. “You have a pulse, so you aren’t A.I. Enhanced military super solider?” she guessed.

“No.” Luke was distracted by her fingers on his wrist. They were soft, with white and pink nails, her skin delectably pale against the dark tint of his human flesh. She started to pull her hand away, but Luke wrapped his fingers around hers, holding her in place. They both looked at their tangled hands, and in an instant, the atmosphere at the table changed.

Luke imagined how they would look pressed against one another. The dichotomy of skin tones on the grand scale of their full naked bodies. Lena’s fingers curled into his, stroking the hollow of his palm, and Luke swallowed. Please let that be the opening strains of human mating rituals.

“I think I know a way to solve our problem.” Lena’s voice was butter smooth and velvet soft. He raised his gaze from their locked hands to her face. Blue eyes peeked at him under dark lashes.

“We have a problem?”

“I think we do. You want me to agree to make a movie about what you are, but won’t tell me precisely what that might be.” Lena slid her fingers from his, then reached up and ran her index finger from the tip of his eyebrow, down over his cheekbone, to the corner of his mouth. “So it looks like I’ll have to find out all on my own.”

She sat back and signaled the waiter for the check.





ISBN 97-8159998303-5

Monsters in HollywoodMonsters_in_Hollywood.html

Excerpt

Lila Dubois

  1. (c)2008