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The Marriage Deal

By:Helen Biancbin

The Marriage Deal
Helen Biancbin

       CHAPTER ONE


'CUT,' the director called. 'That's a wrap.'

They were the sweetest words she'd heard all day, Sandrine decided as she lifted a hand to ease the weight of her elaborate wig.

Period costume was not the most comfortable wearing apparel, nor was the  boned, tightly laced corselet worn to achieve an eighteen-inch waist  and push her breasts impossibly high and bare them almost to the point  of indecent exposure.

Add the heat of the studio lights, a lead actor who had an inflated ego  and delusions of grandeur, the director from hell, and the axiom, 'One  should suffer in the name of one's art', had never been more pertinent.

'A word, sweetheart.'

From Tony's lips, sweetheart was not a term of endearment, and she  froze, then she turned slowly to face the aging director whose talent  was legend, but whose manner on occasion belonged in a backstreet of  Naples.

'Dinner tonight, my place. Seven.' Hard dark eyes speared hers. 'Be  there.' He turned his head and swept an arm to encompass five of her  fellow actors. 'Everyone.'

Sandrine stifled a faint groan. All she wanted to do was to change,  shower, put on her own clothes and drive to the waterfront villa she  called home for the duration of filming, catch a snack and read through  her lines for tomorrow.

'Do we get to ask why?' the lead actor queried petulantly.

'Money. The film needs it. My guest has it,' the director declared  succinctly. 'If his request to meet the cast will clinch an essential  injection of funds, so be it.'

'Tonight?' Sandrine reiterated, and suffered the dark lance of his gaze.

'Do you have a problem with that?'

If she did, voicing it would do no good at all, and she affected an eloquent shrug in resignation. 'I guess not.'

He swung an eagle eye over the rest of the cast. 'Anyone else?'

'You could have given us more notice,' the lead actor complained, and earned an earthy oath for his temerity.

'Difficult, when the man only arrived in the country yesterday.'

'Okay, okay, I get the picture.'

'Pleased to hear it,' was the cryptic response. 'Continuity,' he commanded, and Sandrine gave a heartfelt sigh.

Fifteen minutes later she was done with wardrobe, and she crossed the  car park and slid in behind the wheel of her hire-car. Dressed in casual  shorts and top, her long sable hair wound into a careless knot atop her  head made for comfort in the intense afternoon heat.

Sandrine activated the air-conditioning the instant the engine purred  into life, and minutes later she gained the main southern highway.

Her leased accommodation was a two-level villa overlooking water at  Sanctuary Cove, a prestigious suburb on Queensland's Gold Coast, only a  ten-minute drive from the Coomera film studios.

She activated the CD player as she took the Hope Island – Sanctuary Cove  exit ramp and let the funky beat ease the kinks of a rough day.

A tree-lined river wound its way towards a man-made canal system, a nest  of beautiful homes and the lush grounds of a popular golf course.

A view that exuded peace and tranquillity, she conceded as she veered  towards Sanctuary Cove, then, clear of the security gate guarding the  entrance to one of several residential areas, she took the gently curved  road leading to the clutch of two-level villas hugging the waterfront.

Cement-rendered brick, painted pale blue with white trim, pebbled  gardens adorned with decorative urns provided a pleasant, refreshing  facade, Sandrine acknowledged as she used a remote control to open the  garage door.

Inside, there was an abundance of cool marble floors, sleek lacquered  furniture, soft leather sofas and chairs, and the kitchen was a  gourmand's delight with a wealth of modern appliances. The open-plan  design was pleasing, encompassing a wide curved staircase at the far end  of the foyer leading to a gallery circling the upper floor, where three  large bedrooms, each with an en suite, reposed.

Wide, sliding glass doors opened from the lounge and dining room onto a  paved terrace that led to a private swimming pool. There was also a boat  ramp.

Sandrine discarded her bag, changed into a bikini and spent precious  minutes exercising by swimming a few laps of the pool. She needed the  physical release, the coolness of the water, in a bid to rid herself of  the persistent edge of tension.

A shower did much to restore her energy level, and she towelled her  hair, then used a hand-held dryer to complete the process before  crossing to the large walk-in robe.

Basic black, she decided as she riffled through her limited wardrobe. A  social existence hadn't been uppermost in her mind when she'd hurriedly  packed for this particular sojourn, and most of her clothes were divided  between three luxurious homes far distant from this temporary  residence.                       
       
           



       

Don't even think about those homes or the man she'd shared them with,  she determined as she cast a designer gown onto the bed, then extracted  stiletto-heeled pumps and an evening bag in matching black.

Yet the image invaded her mind, his broad, sculpted features with their  angles and planes hauntingly vivid. Slate-grey eyes seemed to pierce  right through to her soul, and she shivered at the memory of his mouth,  its sensual curves and the devastating skill of its touch.

Michel Lanier. Mid-thirties, and ten years her senior. Successful  entrepreneur, patron of the arts, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with the  features of a Renaissance prince and the skilled mentality of a street  warrior. Born of French parents in Paris, he'd begun his education in  France and completed it in America.

Husband, lover. A man who'd swept her into his arms, his heart, and made her his wife.

They'd met at the party of a mutual friend in New York. Sandrine had  just completed a modelling assignment during a seasonal break and was  due to return to Sydney the following week to resume the filming of a  long-running Australian-based television series.

Sandrine flew in with Michel at her side, and within a week she'd  introduced him to her family, announced her engagement and had the  script writers rewrite her part in the series. As soon as the chilling  episodes filming her character's accident and demise were completed, she  accompanied Michel back to New York.

Two months later they were married quietly in a very private ceremony  among immediate family, and divided their time between New York and  Paris. Michel bought a luxury apartment in Sydney's prestigious Double  Bay with magnificent views out over the harbour. Their Australian base,  he explained.

For six months everything was perfect. Too perfect, Sandrine reflected  as she selected black underwear and donned it, then pulled on filmy  black hose before crossing to the mirror to begin applying make-up.

The problem had begun three months ago when they spent two weeks in  Sydney and a friend gave her a script to read. The story was good,  better than good, and she felt an immediate affinity with the supporting  character. A vision of how the part should be played filled her head  and refused to leave.

Sandrine had known the production time frame wouldn't fit in with  Michel's European schedule. She told herself there was no way he'd agree  to her spending four weeks in Australia without him.

On a whim she decided to audition, aware her chance of success was next  to nil, and she'd almost dismissed it from her mind when, days later,  they returned to New York.

Her agent's call confirming she had the part brought a mixture of  excitement and trepidation. Production was due to begin in a month at  the Coomera studios in Queensland.

She signed the contract when it arrived but delayed telling Michel, all  too aware what his reaction would be. Each day that passed had made the  telling more difficult, until there were too few days left.

A hundred times she'd rehearsed the words in her mind, yet none of them  came out sounding right, and what began as a discussion rapidly  digressed into an argument of such magnitude she'd simply thrown some  clothes into a bag in the early hours of the morning and booked into a  hotel until it was time to take her scheduled flight to Brisbane.

Sandrine had qualified that four weeks wasn't a lifetime, yet with every  passing day the physical and spiritual distance between then widened to  a point where she feared it might never be repaired.

Worse, Murphy's Law descended, and production had suffered one delay  after another. An estimated four weeks extended to five, then six.  Budget was shot to pieces as they went into their seventh week. The  subtropical midsummer heat was a killer, and tempers frequently ran  short as professionalism was pushed to the limit.

Sandrine stood back from the mirror, secured the last pin in the simple  knot of hair atop her head, then slid her feet into the elegant black  pumps, collected her evening bag and made her way downstairs.

The day's high temperatures had gone down a notch or two, and there was a  slight sea breeze teasing the early evening air as Sandrine crossed the  paved apron to the entrance of Tony's Main Beach apartment building.

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