Cat stabbed the answer button on her phone’s screen while the makeup artist filled in her right eyebrow. “Hey, Laur. Tell me we’re a go for shooting,” Cat demanded.
“Put your eyebrow down or I’m going to make you look like you have caterpillars crawling across your forehead,” Archie warned her. Cat wrinkled her nose at the makeup artist and smoothed the muscles of her forehead.
“Yeah about that,” Lauren began. “I don’t think you’re going to like this.”
“They said no? Who in their right minds would say no to having their destroyed town rebuilt in time for Christmas for a network special?”
“I know,” Lauren replied.
But Cat was on a righteous roll. “They don’t have to wait for FEMA money, and we can guaran-damn-tee that their Christmas Festival will happen and be bigger than ever. That’s even more revenue for the town.” Cat’s voice echoed around the white walls of the hair and makeup room.
“I know. I know. Preaching to the choir, my friend,” Lauren said.
“I shouldn’t have gone straight to the network with this one. But who knew the town was run by a dumbass?” she lamented without moving her lips as Archie slathered gloss over them.
“Well, you see, Cat. I think it’s a dumbass with a grudge. Apparently when you were in Merry for that episode of Kings of Construction, you ruffled some feathers.”
“What exactly does that mean?” Cat demanded, drumming her freshly painted nails on the arm of the makeup chair.
“The city manager felt that the show turned his town into a circus.”
Cat snorted. “We renovated the home of one of the town’s most beloved families after they were hit by a drunk driver and nearly lost their home. That same house has two feet of standing water in it! I’m not going to just stand by and do nothing!”
“You sound mad.”
“We saw the town. We were there. Half of Merry, Connecticut, was underwater two days ago,” Cat argued.
“I know. I know. I was right there.”
“Why in the hell would some city suit decide they don’t need this?”
“Well, among a few other comments, the city manager’s main refrain was he didn’t want some network profiting off the trauma of his neighbors.”
“As if I would let that happen!”
Archie poked Cat in the forehead with a makeup brush. “Stop it with the expressions until I get this shit on your face.”
Cat stuck her tongue out at him but continued more calmly. “I want his phone number,” she told Lauren.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? I mean, the guy still seems pissed about you and that bar fight when you were in town.”
“Bar fight?” Cat’s voice hit a high note that had Archie bobbling his makeup palette. “He’s going to hold that against me? Obviously, he’s never seen a bar fight before, or he doesn’t believe a woman has the right to defend herself. Either way, I’m going to have to educate him.”
“I don’t know, Cat. He seems to think you’re basically an antichrist TV star who wants to swoop in and exploit his town’s disaster for ratings.”
“I hope you’re paraphrasing.”
Lauren laughed nervously. “To be fair, I think the guy is stressed to the breaking point. I mean, you saw how bad the damage was.”
“Your pregnancy hormones are making you soft,” Cat sighed. “Text me his number.”
“I’ll handle this with tact,” Cat promised. “I’m getting all of the ‘you’re a big, stupid idiot’ insults out now. Just don’t say anything to the network yet about this city manager guy’s refusal. We’re doing a Christmas special, and it’s going to be in Merry.”
“Good luck. Please don’t make him cry.”
Cat disconnected and leaned back in her chair.
“You shouldn’t yell at pregnant ladies,” Archie commented, holding Cat’s jaw in his hand as he swooped in with fake lashes. “Do not move a muscle.”
“I wasn’t yelling at Lauren. She allows me to freely express my displeasure at things that are stupid like a city manager refusing what could be a golden ticket to saving his town’s entire tourism income for the year.”
“Uh-huh.” His fingers deftly pressed the lashes in place.
“The town is devastated. Their huge money maker is the Christmas Festival every year, and government money isn’t going to get them back on their feet by December.”
“Mmm,” Archie said, sweeping a bronzer into the hollows of her cheeks.
Cat’s phone buzzed in her lap with a text from Lauren.
Lauren: “Here’s his number. Noah Yates. Be nice!”
“Be nice,” Cat mumbled.
“Stop pouting,” Archie insisted. He swept the cape off her and angled her toward the mirror. “You’re too gorgeous to be grumpy.”
She eyed his handiwork in the mirror. She’d trudged into the studio still half-asleep with yesterday’s hairspray wreaking havoc on her hastily tied ponytail, and now she looked like a cover-worthy model. Or at least a promo-worthy TV star.
“You’re a freaking genius, Archie. You and your god-like hands and your magical potions.”
“Nothing a gay man and his abiding love of Sephora can’t fix.” Archie checked his watch. “You’ve got five before they come pounding on the door demanding your hotness in front of the camera. Go make your call and eviscerate your city manager.”
Cat blew him a kiss, careful not to smudge the violet lip gloss he’d so expertly applied to her mouth. “Will do.”
She ducked out of the room into the hallway. They were shooting promos for her solo show’s second season to run in magazines. Apparently, hosting a home renovation show when you were a woman called for her to be decked out in four-inch Jimmy Choos and a gorgeous, fitted dress the color of cranberries. She didn’t mind it. If some designer duds—that she was totally keeping after the shoot—caught the eye of an audience and made even one little girl think that maybe she could wield a sledge hammer or a circular saw, then Cat considered her work done.
If people wanted to keep putting her in the pretty Barbie box, she was just going to keep cutting and smashing her way out over and over again until they learned their lesson. She may be pretty, but that didn’t mean she was stupid or incapable or the slightest bit dependent on anyone. Catalina King had clawed her way up the ranks of reality TV to not just star in her own show but produce it as well.
And there was nothing that she loved more than a chance to use her face to make a difference. Sure, it opened her up to public scrutiny. Two weeks ago, on a whim, she’d dyed her platinum locks a sexy caramel color with highlights. Twitter had lost its damn mind. People were still debating whether or not blonde was better.
Cat took the attention in stride. Her life was perfect. A challenging job, a jet-setting lifestyle, a never-ending parade of new, interesting men available for casual consumption, and a project in the new year that would take her beyond TV stardom into something that really mattered.
But between now and then stood Merry.
She dialed Yates and tapped out an impatient beat with the toe of her shoe as the phone rang. After a handful of rings, it went to voicemail. She disconnected and called back.
“This is Noah,” the man on the other end barked.
“Mr. Yates,” Cat began. “This is Catalina King.”
She heard an honest-to-God growl from the other end of the call. “I don’t have time for this,” he snapped.
“Frankly, Mr. Yates, your town doesn’t have time.”
Cat heard conversation happening in the background. “Listen, whoever the hell you are,” Noah snapped. “I’m trying to dry out an entire town here and figure out just exactly how extensive the damage is. I’ve got people who might not be able to return to their homes for months and a town that is losing hope. We don’t need some TV show coming in and churning out some sob story for ratings and advertising.”
“What do you need?” Cat asked coolly.
“I need you to take no for an answer so I can get back to work. You’re taking up my time that I need to dedicate to more important things.”
“Then maybe next time don’t answer the phone,” she suggested sarcastically.
“Great idea,” he snapped back.
“Before you continue your tirade, think about what you’re turning down here. We’re offering you a chance to rebuild quickly. The chance to get Merry back on its feet in time for Christmas. I know how much money comes into your town between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. We can help make sure that the park is up and running—”
“We don’t need your bullshit pity, and I sure as hell don’t need some reality TV star prancing around breaking her nails and punching my residents in the face while turning my town into some sideshow. We’re good. We don’t need you.” And with that he disconnected the call.
Cat took a deep breath and glared down at her phone. Noah Yates had no idea who he just pissed off. But he sure as hell was going to find out. She was going to save Merry’s Christmas whether Noah wanted her to or not.
“Cat?” A production assistant poked her head out of a doorway. “The photographer’s ready for you.”
The real question was: Was Noah Yates ready for her?