Dark Wild Night (Wild Seasons #3) by Christina Lauren

Chapter ONE

Lola

I MENTALLY DRAW THE panels of the scene before me as we follow the receptionist down the marble hallway: the woman wears six-inch black heels, her legs go on forever, her hips shift with each step.

Her hips shift left.

Her hips shift right.

Her hips shift left.

My agent, Benny, leans in. “Don’t be nervous,” he whispers.

“I’m fine,” I lie, but he just snorts in response, straightening.

“The deal is all drafted, Lola. You’re here to sign, not to impress anyone. Smile! Today is the fun part.”

I nod, trying to trick my thoughts into agreement—Look at this office! Look at these people! Bright lights! Big city!—but it’s a wasted effort. I’ve been writing and drawing Razor Fish since I was twelve, and every single second of the fun part, to me, has been creating it. The terrifying part is walking down a sterile hallway lined with glass-front cubicles and glossy framed movie posters to sign a seven-figure contract for the film translation.

My stomach seems lodged somewhere in my windpipe and I go back to my safe place.

Her hips shift right.

Her hips shift left.

Her long legs span from the earth up to the clouds.

The receptionist stops at a door and opens it. “Here we are.”

The studio offices are almost obscenely fancy; the entire building feels like the modern equivalent of a castle. Every wall is brushed aluminum and marble; every door is glass. Each piece of furniture is either marble or black leather. Benny leads us in with confidence, crossing the room to shake hands with the executives on the other side of the table. I follow him in, but when I release the glass door it swings closed heavily, and the jarring gong of glass abruptly meeting metal echoes through the room—a sound broken only by two startled gasps coming from across the table.

Fuck.

I’ve seen enough photos of myself in stressful public situations in the past three months to know that, right now, I don’t look ruffled. I don’t duck my head and apologize; I don’t slouch or wince even though, as soon as the door slams dissonantly shut, I’m tied into a hundred thousand knots inside. Apparently, I’m just good at hiding it.

The New York Times gave Razor Fish a brilliant review, but found me “aloof” during an interview that I’d believed to be spirited and engaging. The Los Angeles Times described our phone call as “a series of long, thoughtful pauses followed by single-word answers” whereas I had told my friend Oliver that I was worried I’d talked their ear off.

When I turn to face the executives, I’m unsurprised to find they both look as polished as the architecture. Neither woman across the table says anything about my less-than-subtle entrance, but I swear the slamming echo reverberates throughout the room the entire time I walk from the door to the table.

Benny winks and gestures for me to sit down. I find a soft leather chair, smooth my dress over my thighs, and carefully take a seat.

My hands are clammy, my heart thundering. I’m counting to twenty over and over to keep from panicking.

The panel shows the girl, chin up, with a ball of fire in her lungs.

“Lorelei, it’s wonderful to meet you face-to-face.”

I look to the woman who’s spoken and take her offered hand to shake. Her hair is blond and glossy, perfect makeup, perfect clothes, perfectly expressionless. From my early-morning creeping on IMDb, I’m fairly sure she’s Angela Marshall, the executive producer who, with her frequent collaborator Austin Adams, fought to win the rights to Razor Fish in the bidding war I didn’t even know was happening last week.

But her hair in the picture was red. My eyes shoot to the woman on her left, but she has soft brown skin, black hair, and enormous brown eyes. Definitely not Angela Marshall. The only person I’ve seen frequently in magazines and photos is Austin, but there isn’t another man besides Benny in the room.

“Please, call me Lola. It’s nice to meet you . . . ?” I let the question hang, because in normal situations I think this is where the names are exchanged. Instead, the handshake goes on forever, and now I don’t know where to direct my effusive gratitude. Why isn’t anyone introducing themselves? Am I expected to know every name here?

Releasing my hand, the woman finally says, “Angela Marshall.”

I sense that it was some sort of test.

“So good to meet you,” I say again. “I can’t believe . . .”

My thought ends there and they all watch me, waiting to hear what I’m going to say. Truthfully, I could go on for days about all the things I can’t believe.

I can’t believe Razor Fish is out in the world.

I can’t believe people are buying it.

And I really can’t believe fancy people working at this enormous movie studio are making my graphic novel into a movie.

“We can’t believe any of it.” Benny comes to my rescue, but laughs awkwardly. “We’re just thrilled about how this all went down. Thrilled.”

The woman next to Angela gives him the Oh, I’m sure you are face, because we all know Benny made out pretty great in the deal: twenty percent of a lot of money. But that realization pulls the other one with it: I made out even better than he did. My life is forever changed with this single transaction. We’re here to sign a contract, to discuss casting, to lay out the schedule.

The panel shows the girl, waking up with a start as a steel rod is shoved into her backbone.

I hold my hand out to the other woman. “Hi, sorry I didn’t get your name. I’m Lola Castle.”

She introduces herself as Roya Lajani, and then looks down at some pages in front of her as she takes a breath to start whatever conversation happens in these moments. But before she can speak, the door swings open and the man I recognize as Austin Adams breezes in, letting in a blast of ringing phones, heels clicking down the hall, and voices booming from adjacent rooms.

“Lola!” he says to me in a warm, cheerful voice and then winces as the door crashes shut behind him. Looking to Angela, he says, “I hate that fucking door. When the hell is Julie getting it fixed?”

Angela waves her hand in a Don’t worry about it gesture and watches as Austin ignores the seat next to her and pulls out the chair on my right. Sitting down, he studies my face, smiling widely at me.

“I’m a huge fan,” he says without further preamble, without even introducing himself. “Honestly. I’m just in awe of you.”

“I . . . wow,” I say, laughing awkwardly. “Thanks.”

“Please tell me you’re working on something new. I’m addicted to your art, your stories, everything.”

“My next graphic novel is out this fall. It’s called Junebug.” I sense Austin leaning in excitedly and instinctively add, “I’m still working on it.” When I look back up at him, he’s just shaking his head at me in wonder.

“Is this surreal?” His eyes turn up warmly as his smile softens. “Has it sunk in yet that you’re the mastermind behind the next huge action movie?”

This line, in this situation—where I worry I’m going to hear a lot of empty praise—would normally make me hold my breath in order to tamp down a skeptical reaction, but despite being a big-shot producer and director, Austin already seems so genuine. He’s good-looking but totally disheveled: his reddish blond hair looks finger combed, he’s unshaven, in jeans and wearing a button-down shirt that he’s misaligned, leaving it longer at the hem on the right side than the left. The starched collar is tucked in on one side, too. He’s a very expensive mess.

“Thanks,” I say, balling my hands together so I don’t start to fidget with my earlobe or my hair.

“I mean it,” he adds, leaning both elbows on his thighs, still focusing only on me. I’m not sure he’s even acknowledged Benny yet. My knuckles have gone white. “I know we’re supposed to say that, but in this case it’s really true. I was obsessed from the very first page, and told Angela and Roya we had to have it.”

“We agreed,” Roya chimes in, unnecessarily.

“Well,” I say, struggling to find something other to say than another thank you. “That’s great. I’m glad that it seems to have grabbed a little audience.”

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