Seeing the coast was clear, Linsie took the moment to pull her lip gloss from her pocket. Using the back of a spoon to check herself, she quickly swiped the tube over her lips.
A familiar form suddenly appeared from around the catering truck and waved to her. Replacing the spoon, she casually slipped the tube back into her pocket.
“Glad you could make it. Help me with these pastries, would you, please?”
Linsie followed the caterer over to the truck where she was loaded up with two trays.
“I was afraid you weren’t going to make it,” the woman remarked.
“Hey. So what if it’s Saturday night. I had nothing on my calendar. And your offer was too tempting to resist.” Linsie flashed her boss an honest smile.
Shandra rolled her eyes as she unshelved two trays for herself. “I don’t suppose getting to rub elbows with movie stars might have something to do with you agreeing to this gig, would it?”
Linsie snickered. “Are you insinuating I might be star struck?”
“Girl, I got just two words for you. Clark. Gable.”
Linsie groaned as Shandra laughed out loud.
“Clark Gable’s dead,” Linsie reminded the woman.
“I know, but I also know how smitten you are with all those old movies of his. And after all the times I’ve had to listen to you blather on about how debonair and swoony that man is, I have every right to rag you about your obsession.”
They took a set of stairs leading up to what appeared to be an open balcony or patio. The going wasn’t hard, but climbing with arms loaded was a chore.
“So who all do you know is going to be here?” Linsie challenged.
“What do you mean?”
“You said we’d be hobnobbing with movie stars. Who movie stars?”
Shandra paused to both catch her breath and to look back at her. “You don’t know where we are, do you?”
Deadpanned, Linsie replied, “We’re in an area of Los Angeles known as Beverly Hills. More specifically, at twenty-one-oh—”
“I meant, do you know whose home this is?”
Giving her a wide grin, Shandra turned and continued climbing. “You’re gonna thank me later when you do.”
When they reached the top of the stairs, a man in a suit and tie, and an obvious earpiece in one ear, stopped them. Shandra handed her trays over to the man in order to produce her credentials. After clearing them to enter, he gave the trays back to her and stepped aside.
“How much more do we have to bring up?” Linsie questioned, hoping there wasn’t much more. Stair climbing wasn’t the problem, but these were steep and narrow.
“This is the last of it. The rest was delivered earlier.”
Following Shandra across the open-air patio, she couldn’t help but stop to gaze open-mouthed at the view. With the sun setting, the valley below was draped in twilight. It made the area appear to be swathed in twinkling stars.
“Heads up, Lins!”
Linsie hurried to catch up. “That view’s incredible!”
“It better be, considering what this place probably cost,” Shandra quipped. “You can unload those trays on that table over there,” she instructed with a wave of her hand.
Setting her load onto the covered table, Linsie began setting out the hors d’oeuvres. She was almost finished when she caught movement from the corner of her eye. A hand reached out to snatch one of the desserts. Thinking it belonged to one of the staff, she automatically swatted it away.
“No touching the food without permission!” she automatically chastised.
“Sorry,” a deep voice apologized.
Hearing the touch of amusement in the tone, she jerked her head up to find herself staring into a pair of golden-brown eyes across the table. In the next instant, her brain took in the face and body, and she felt herself literally shrink in embarrassment.
“N-n-no, sir. Sorry, sir. I-I didn’t know—”
“Don’t apologize,” he hastily reassured her with a chuckle. It was deep and resonant, and sounded truly honest. Not to mention exactly like it did on the big screen whenever she watched one of his movies. “My mother would have done exactly the same thing. In fact, she has. On several occasions.” He stuck out a hand. “Hello. I’m Brale.”
“I know,” she replied, then blushed more furiously. “I mean, I’m Linsie.”
He pointed to the hors d’oeuvre he’d almost absconded with. “May I?”
“Oh, yes! Please do!”
She watched as he picked up the cracker topped with Shandra’s special recipe foie gras and took a careful nibble. The way he did it made her giggle.
“Go ahead and shove the whole thing in your mouth. You know you want to, and I don’t mind.”
He did. Two chews, and an expression of rapture came over his face.
“Oh, that is incredible,” he praised with a full mouth.
“Isn’t it, though? It’s Shandra’s personal and private recipe. People who have us cater for them, if it’s their first time, they always ask for it on repeat bookings. But word’s gotten around, and people who book us for the first time also request it.” She grinned. “You could say our reputation’s grown by word of mouth.”
He got the pun and chuckled again. Taking a napkin from the pile, he wiped his mouth and nodded to her. “Good one. And this foie gras is well worth the hype. You’ll definitely catch me sneaking back around to grab more of these.” Throwing her a wink, he strolled away.
A figure hurried up behind her. “Oh, girl! Lucky you! Do you know who you just spoke to?” Shandra asked breathlessly.
Linsie nodded. “Yep. The one and only Brale Panthera.”
“Major A-lister,” Shandra confirmed. Moving her face closer to Linsie’s shoulder, she whispered, “You know what they say about him, right?”
Suspicious this might be a sex joke, she was about to tell the woman she wasn’t interested, but curiosity got the better of her. “No. What do they say about him?”
“That he’s the least vain man in Hollywood. Very reclusive. Very private.”
She turned to give the woman a curious stare. “He’s the what?”
Smiling, Shandra eyed what they could see of the house’s interior. “Look around for yourself. There are no mirrors, no shiny surfaces of any kind. Even the plate glass doors are treated. No way to even see his reflection. Weird, huh?”
“Uh, yeah. It is.” Linsie snorted. “So what are you telling me? That he’s a vampire or something who can’t see his reflection?”
The woman gave her a derisive eye. “It’s definitely odd, considering his face is all over the place. They even say he doesn’t allow mirrors in his trailer for the makeup artists to use. Isn’t that crazy? You almost done here?”
“Yeah. Just about. What ‘cha got next for me?”
“Check to make sure there’s enough tableware set out.”
“Cups and glasses, too?”
“Those, too. Thanks.” The woman shuffled away, carrying the empty trays with her to stack somewhere until the party was over, and they’d be used to load up the leftovers to take back to the kitchen.
Although she had her favorites when it came to actors and actresses, Linsie had never been one to ardently follow them in the media. Although this was the first time she’d heard about Brale Panthera’s supposed “non vice,” she had to admit she’d heard whispers here and there, but she’d brushed them off as gossip. However, Shandra sounded pretty sure about it, which told Linsie there could be more than a kernel of truth in the stories.
A random thought came to her, and she tried to shake it off. “No. It’s not possible.”
A sound in the next room caught her attention. The next instant, she caught sight of the movie star exiting one room and entering another. Something in the way he moved…
“Or is it?”
Going over to where the tableware was laid out, she realized the plan she’d been debating wouldn’t work. Everything here was textured. Then she remembered the large serving spoon she’d recently used to touch up her lips. It belonged to the catering company, and it wasn’t textured.
She went to get it from where it was sitting in the bowl of cut fruit. Slowly lifting it to where she could see herself reflected in the convex bowl, she ignored the faint feline shadow over her face and held it to where she could also look over her shoulder. At that moment, Brale left the other room and strode toward the back of the house. It all lasted about three to four seconds, but it was all the time she needed.
Dropping the spoon back into the bowl, she took several deep breaths to calm her nervousness. “Back to work. Get your mind off of what you just saw,” she told herself, and went to count the glassware.
She was almost finished counting when she sensed a figure coming up behind her and knew who’d returned. Smiling, she glanced over to see the man in question eyeing her as he hovered above the foie gras.
“Back for seconds? Or thirds?”
“May I go ahead and fill up a plate?”
“Hey, you’re paying for it. Go right ahead.”
She shuffled a little closer to him, enough to where she could talk without anyone else listening in. “They say you’re the least vain man in Hollywood.”
A corner of his mouth turned upward. “I’ve heard that, too.”
“Truth or not?” she playfully challenged him.
“Hey, we all have our perks. I just happen to be able to afford mine.”
“So just how long do you think you can keep your secret safe?” she bluntly asked him.
His eyes widened as he stared at her. Linsie continued before he could speak.
“Are there others who know what you really are? Or have you been able to slide by on your lonesome?”
“What are you talking about?” He was suddenly nervous, defensive, and abrasive. She didn’t blame him.
Picking up a fork, she shook it at him. “All textured. No mirrors. Nothing reflective. You may have everyone else fooled, but not those of us like you.”
His eyes narrowed, giving him the appearance of a cornered yet vicious animal. “Miss…”
“I’m one of you,” she hastily told him. When he softly gasped, she looked at him in surprise. “Wait a minute. You’ve never met another one of us? You thought you were the only one?”
Brale glanced over at the patio. Seeing people coming in, he grabbed her by the arm and hurried her into the adjacent room, which turned out to be a study. Letting her go, he quickly shut the door then whirled around to face her. “There are others like me? Like us?” His mouth hung open for a moment. “What are we?”
“We’re Leons,” she repeated. “We’re…unique.”
He blew a raspberry. “Boy, that’s putting it mildly.” His eyes roamed over her. “How do I know you’re telling the truth? How can I trust you?”
“Look at my eyes.”
He stared at her. “Okay. So?”
“What color are they?”
“They’re…uhhh…” His head jerked back.
Linsie smiled. “That’s not a sure sign. There are other people, normal regular people, who have the same color eyes. But all of us Leons do. The true test, though, is our reflection.”
“Do you…see…yourself differently in a mirror?”
She nodded. “Oh, yeah. And people who look at our reflections do, too.”
“Do you see me as I really am? Right now?”
Smiling, Linsie tilted her head slightly. “Do you see me as I really am?”
“No, but how do you know…”
She tapped her nose. “Trust your instincts. What does this tell you?”
Blane studied her for a moment. “Why can we see our other selves in a reflection? What are we? Freaks?”
“No.” Linsie shook her head. “Didn’t your parents explain it all to you?”
“My parents were human, but they loved me anyway. They’re both dead now. They died several years ago. That’s when I decided to pursue a career in the movies…” He glanced down for a couple of seconds, then back up at her. “After I found out that a photo of me doesn’t show the real me.”
“You’re right. The camera only sees what everyone else sees, but we still must be careful about it catching our reflection.”
“So…” He touched his nose. “I know you said we can sense each other, but how did you know for certain? Certain enough to come tell me you knew?”
She pointed toward the table. “I used the back of one of the serving spoons that came from the caterer.”
He pointed to her. “Linsie, right?”
“How much time do you have?” she quipped.
A knock on the door suddenly interrupted them. He opened it to find Shandra standing there, a concerned look on her face.
“There you are! I was getting worried!” She gave Brale an anxious look. “Is something wrong? Did Linsie do something I need to know about?”
Turning to Linsie, Brale pointed to the woman in the doorway. “Does she…”
Knowing he was asking if Shandra was one of them, or knew about Leons, she shook her head. “No.”
He faced Shandra. “Everything’s fine. I was trying to coerce her to give me the recipe for that awe-inspiring foie gras, but she flatly refuses to relent.” He suddenly flashed the woman a smile. “She’ll be out shortly.” That done, he closed the door in the woman’s face, much to Linsie’s shock. “Are you available tomorrow night?” he asked.
Surprised by the sudden shift, she shook her head. “Yes.”
“Mind if I pick you up so we go someplace where we can talk? I gotta hear more about this.”
“Tomorrow works for me.”
“Great! How can I get hold of you?”
Linsie laughed softly. “How do you know I’m not already married or have a boyfriend?”
“Because I don’t smell him on you if you do,” he bluntly answered. “Is that weird or…”
“It’s one of our abilities,” she informed him, tapping her nose again. “Our senses are enhanced.”
He took a step back. “Wow,” he softly said.
“Do you have a pen and some paper?”
He quickly produced a pad and pen from the desk at the far end of the room. She jotted down her phone number.
“I have to get back to my job. But feel free to come grab some more of the foie gras before it’s all eaten up.”
“You can count on it,” Brale promised. Holding up the pad, he smiled. “And thanks for this. I can’t wait.”
He opened the door for her. Shandra was no longer there, but Linsie hurried back to the patio. She knew the woman would harangue her for information about why she and Brale Panthera had been alone in the study together, but it didn’t matter.