Laura Farrell was tall, model-slim, straight brown hair falling to her shoulder blades, wearing an elegant black dress, in keeping with her personal style of always appearing in good classic clothes. She had amber eyes—cat’s eyes. Max had seen envy in them when she was looking at Chloe. Contempt, as well. As though Chloe was stupid and didn’t deserve her status as a star.
It was a completely different story when Chloe was looking at her—sweetly helpful, indulgently helpful, happy to do whatever was asked of her. The two-faced bitch had shown her true colours tonight. Max was looking forward to banishing her from Chloe’s orbit.
Tony Lipton, as well, even more so, the smarmy con man riding his gravy train without any real caring for the woman who’d been carrying him. With his streaky blond hair and green eyes he could almost be a clone for Robert Redford in his prime, but his only talent was for looking good and talking himself up. The fall is coming, Max silently promised him as Tony caught sight of his approach, was visibly alarmed by it and quickly warned the others.
The two women sprang aside, automatically making room for him to join the group. Laura’s face held a mixture of fear and belligerence. She had to know she’d dug her own grave as Chloe’s personal assistant but she was going to fight to come out on top with a hefty slice of Chloe’s wealth through Tony’s mistake in getting her pregnant. No doubt she’d get long-term support out of his divorce settlement. The pregnancy would not have been a mistake on her part.
There was tight-lipped anger on Stephanie’s face. She’d obviously been counting the cost of the inevitable fallout and didn’t like the score. She’d like it even less when he slapped her with Chloe’s total disaffection from her domination.
The tension amongst the group was palpable, waiting for him to present them with a platform from which to push their hotly contesting barrows. Max wasn’t about to give it to them in full view of interested spectators.
‘No doubt you’re all concerned about Chloe,’ he said, barely keeping an acid sarcasm out of his voice. ‘I’ve taken her to a private suite. I suggest you all accompany me out of here so the situation can be discussed in private. I urge you not to speak to anyone as we go. You won’t like the consequences if you do.’
‘You can’t do anything to me,’ Laura jeered defiantly.
‘Shut your bloody mouth!’ Tony sliced at her.
‘Take my arm, Stephanie,’ Max commanded, holding it out for public linkage to Chloe’s mother.
No hesitation there.
Max shot a steely look at the gravy-train specialist. ‘Follow us, Tony, and bring your woman with you.’
The perfect golden tan on his face didn’t look so perfect stained with a guilty red flush, but Max didn’t pause to take pleasure in the effect. He retraced his path across the room with Stephanie Rollins in tow, his head bent to her in a pose of confidential conversation, murmuring a string of platitudes about the need to look after Chloe more carefully.
It only took a matter of minutes to have the three of them away from the party and in an elevator being whisked up to what they undoubtedly expected to be a showdown with Chloe. On the executive floor he led them to a door where a butler was standing, ready to let them in and hand over the pass card to Max, who had arranged for this second suite to be available on his way down from the one Chloe was now occupying.
They trooped in.
He closed the door.
Stephanie was the first to react. ‘Where’s Chloe?’ she snapped, eyes suspicious of having been maneuvred into a place that held no advantage to her.
‘Where she wants to be … out of reach from any of you,’ he replied, sweeping all three of them with a look of icy contempt before addressing Stephanie. ‘Since you hired Laura Farrell as Chloe’s personal assistant, I suggest you now fire her. She will not be welcome anywhere near Chloe again. Is that understood, Stephanie?’
She nodded, too smart to argue against what he was telling her point-blank was unfixable.
‘I wouldn’t work for her again anyway,’ Laura mumbled.
Max ignored her, targeting Tony next. ‘You’re fired from the script-writing team.’
‘You can’t do that. I’ve got a contract,’ he spluttered.
‘I’ll buy it out. My lawyer will be in touch with you to settle. Consider the contract terminated as of now. I don’t want you anywhere in the vicinity of Chloe when she’s working on the show.’
‘Go quietly, Tony,’ he advised, threat underlining every word as he added, ‘I could have you blacklisted from the whole television industry.’
‘For God’s sake! I just made a mistake in my private life. It has nothing to do with my profession,’ he protested.
‘It’s not private when it affects my business. Go quietly, Tony,’ he repeated.
He shook his head in shattered disbelief that his dalliance with Laura Farrell would bring such fast and comprehensive reprisal—banished from the golden star circle, in danger of being completely exiled from celebrity stamping grounds, and without Chloe at his side he had no leverage to change what was being dealt out to him.
Satisfied that Tony was now fully aware of consequences, Max turned his attention back to Chloe’s mother. His strong inclination was to get rid of her altogether, but family bonds were tricky. Without consulting further with Chloe, he had to check himself on that front.
‘I don’t believe you’ve acted in your daughter’s best interests, Stephanie, which you should have done both as her mother and her agent.’
‘This is none of my doing,’ she cried, one hand flying out in a cutting dismissal of Laura and Tony.
‘You chose Laura and you allowed Tony to attach himself to Chloe’s career. Bad judgement on both counts,’ Max bored in relentlessly. ‘You will meet with me at eleven o’clock tomorrow morning in my city office for a discussion on whether or not you will continue to be her agent.’
‘That’s between me and Chloe,’ she vehemently argued.
‘No. She has given me the power to act on her behalf and I shall, Stephanie. Believe me, I shall. You might want to bring a lawyer with you. Mine will certainly be there.’
‘Let me talk to her,’ came the swift demand, a flicker of fear behind the calculation in her eyes. ‘We’ve got too much history for you to interfere like this.’
‘Chloe does not want to listen to you,’ Max stated unequivocally, pushing the position through with calm ruthlessness. ‘I suggest you accept that your domination of your daughter is over and your best course is to move into damage control rather than try fighting me. I am a very formidable opponent, Stephanie.’
He left that threat hanging for several moments, letting it sink in before announcing, ‘I will now leave you to return to the Starlight Room. None of you will be allowed back into it tonight. The butler will evict you from this suite in thirty minutes. A prompt exit from the hotel would be your wisest move.’
He turned his back on them, let himself out of the suite, gave the butler his instructions, then, not anticipating any pursuit from the group he’d left to contemplate their future, he took an elevator down to the function room floor and rejoined the party in the Starlight Room.
Lisa Cox caught hold of him and inquired, ‘Chloe not returning?’
‘No. She’s been on a publicity treadmill this past week and needs a rest from it,’ he said in casual dismissal. ‘Why not chat to