BWW Exclusive: Ruby Preston's STAGED- Special Excerpt!

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BEE-Exclusive-STAGED-20010101

Author Ruby Preston returns with "STAGED," the sequel to the popular Broadway read "SHOWBIZ," exposing all the euphoria, heartbreak, and hijinks of the business of Broadway. Released by Dress Circle Publishing - the premier publisher of theater-themed novels - "STAGED" will be available for purchase on Kindle and in paperback at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and iBooks, following its official release March 12, 2013.

The pages of "STAGED" are filled with glamorous Broadway galas, back-room business deals, and show stopping romance set against the twinkling backdrop of 42nd Street. In Preston's second installment readers will meet new players in the behind-the-scenes drama, as well as delight to see their favorite characters from "SHOWBIZ" reprise their roles. Once again Preston has masterfully rendered the backstage life of Broadway, penning a novel that is guaranteed to entertain theater-loving readers both old and new!

In "STAGED" aspiring Broadway producer Scarlett Savoy has almost everything she needs to make her first musical a huge success- millions in financial backing, a talented (not to mention gorgeous) young director, and a big-name Hollywood starlet as her female lead. But with none of the theater owners in town willing to back a novice, she's missing the final piece of the puzzle: a Broadway theater. Just when Scarlett thinks her show might never see the footlights of day, an unexpected meeting with a handsome, eligible son of the Stewart theatrical empire changes her Broadway prospects forever.

Author Ruby Preston is an award-winning Broadway producer who has helped to bring many musicals to the stage. Her first novel "SHOWBIZ," described as "The Devil Wears Prada" meets NBC's Smash, received widespread praise and was featured in various theater publications. Now a promising talent in the literary as well as the theater world, Preston's newest release is the second book in her Broadway Trilogy. For more information on Ruby Preston and her novels visit www.rubypreston.com or www.dresscirclepublishing.com.

BroadwayWorld brings you an exclusive excerpt from the book below!

The heavy office door clicked shut behind Scarlett, but it might as well have slammed in her face. The elevator was already open to the tenth floor - as if the building itself couldn't get rid of her fast enough. Scarlett stepped in and pushed the button for the first floor. Back to square one, she thought.

The brushed metal elevator doors closed in front of her to reveal a blurry reflection. As Scarlett stared at herself, the image blurred further as she fought back the tears that had been threatening to escape for the past 15 minutes.

Just a few short months ago, she had been on top of the theatrical world. After dreaming her entire life of being a Broadway producer, and then working her way up as the right hand of the most powerful producer on Broadway, she had recently become a theater producer in her own right. It felt amazing. Or at least it had until this morning.

As she walked the few blocks back to her new office, even the beautiful spring day couldn't lift her spirits. The glittering Broadway marquees that usually inspired her, seemed to be mocking her. Reminding Scarlett that despite her hard work, their doors remained firmly closed to her.

She trudged through the tiny lobby of her Times Square office building and into the even tinier elevator. After four years of living in NYC, the cramped conditions and unglamorous backside of the business of Broadway had become ever so familiar to her.

And yet, she still got a thrill, even on a day like today, seeing "Scarlett Productions, Inc." on the door to her little two room office suite. Though the square footage was negligible, she felt exceedingly proud to be running her own producing office.

As she pushed open the door, she was greeted by a familiar face.

"Lawrence!" She exclaimed, feeling a rush of pleasure at this welcome surprise. Lawrence unfolded his tall frame from the desk chair and Scarlett happily ran her eyes over his dapper figure - from his casually, yet, expertly coifed silvering hair, to his designer wing-tipped shoes.

"Hello, Gorgeous," he cooed, kissing her on both cheeks.

"How very French of you," she said. "I didn't expect you back until next week."

"Well, it seems the Riviera will have to do without me this week. I couldn't be away from you a moment longer."

"I'm flattered," Scarlett said, "But why did you really come back early?" She always appreciated his charm, but had long since learned not to fall for it.

"I had to come back for a last minute board meeting, actually," he said with a wink, "But that's so boring."

Lawrence, the quintessential wealthy playboy, enjoyed the thrill of gambling on risky Broadway investments. Despite being nearly twenty years her senior, Lawrence and Scarlett had flirted with the idea of a real romance, but their relationship had long since settled into an intimate friends with benefits situation, and more recently, a business partnership. When she had finally been ready to go out on her own as a Broadway producer, he had become Scarlett's white knight - not only funding the start-up costs for her new Broadway Production Company, but also helping around the office when he wasn't jet-setting or at some glamorous party or premiere.

"Well, you couldn't have picked a better day to show up," Scarlett said, flopping down in one of the two rolling desk chairs in the front office. "Or, I should say, you couldn't have picked a worse one."

"Rough day?" he said sympathetically, as he came around behind her to rub her neck.

"That would be putting it mildly," she replied, with a glance at the clock. "And it's not even noon!"

"What happened? When I left, things were going so well. I told you, you should have come with me to France. A few weeks on the beach would have been a blast."

"You of all people should appreciate that I'm burning the midnight oil around here. After all, it's your money," she said, hooking the other rolling chair with her foot and gesturing for Lawrence to sit, though his neck rub felt amazing.

"I just want you to be happy. And anyway, I invest in tech start up companies every day. Why shouldn't I also fund the cutest and smartest Broadway producer I know?" he said. She marveled for the millionth time how lucky she was to have him in her life. She just hoped she could pull this off before his patience and her savings ran out.

Lawrence was generously funding the business expenses. But until she had a show playing Broadway, she wouldn't have a paycheck of her own. Working as a producer's assistant in Manhattan for the past four years hadn't done much for her bank account either. If she was careful, she could survive about six months before she hit bottom. And she didn't even want to think about what that might mean.

"If I were smart, I would be pursuing a career in anything but Broadway producing," Scarlett said, pressing her palms to her forehead.

"This business is not for the faint of heart, that's for sure," he conceded. "Ok, let's hear what happened this morning. I assume this is related to Swan Song?"

Scarlett had discovered the brand new musical Swan Song a year earlier when it was just a rough draft with a basic script and a few songs. Based on the Swan Lake story, the musical was an updated retelling that placed the black and white female stars, the "swans," in the heart of racial tensions in 1952 Louisiana. She had instantly hit it off with the writers, and decided to take it on as her first solo producing endeavor.

Swan Song's composer and lyricist, partners in work and life, and inconveniently both named Jeremy, had become fast friends with Scarlett. Together, they had successfully navigated Swan Song to becoming an off-Broadway hit, with a Broadway transfer imminent.

Their Broadway dreams, however, had recently been smashed by Scarlett's ex-boss - the ruthless and corrupt, self-titled "King of Broadway." Thankfully, he was no longer in the picture, but the damage to the show's momentum had already been done. Now Scarlett was doing her best to salvage Swan Song's Broadway dreams; and Lawrence had volunteered to put up several million dollars toward the project. Everything had been going well, it seemed, until she'd hit an unexpected snag booking a Broadway theater.

"Know anyone at the Stewart or Rothstein Companies? Or StarCom?"

"The three theater owning monopolies?" Lawrence said. "I've run into a few of those guys at various opening night parties over the years, but not personally, no."

"Well, you'd think that with forty Broadway theaters between the three of them, they'd be able to find something for us. But it seems that without a personal relationship, renting a Broadway theater for Swan Song is going to be a no-go."

"Seriously? I'm surprised. Do they know that Swan Song was a huge hit off-Broadway? They must know, it was the talk of the town. And I'm sure you told them that the funding was in place?" Lawrence said, genuinely perplexed.

"It seems we didn't consider the biggest challenge of them all - booking a theater," she said dejectedly. "I thought the fact that I was the 'King of Broadway's' assistant for all those years might assure them that I know what I'm doing. Apparently, if anything, being associated with him, now that he's fled town under a black cloud, is just another strike against me. That, plus the fact that I'm apparently..." she started quoting, "'too young, too inexperienced, and too naive' for them to bestow the use of any of their precious Broadway real estate upon me... us."

"Young, I'd agree with. But inexperienced and naïve? Not in a million years," he said, reaching over and squeezing her leg affectionately. "How can I help?"

"I wish I knew," she said, spinning aimlessly in the desk chair.

These families were considered New York royalty. They truly held the fate of Broadway in their hands and commanded huge rent from the producers who rented their theaters. For nearly a century, generations of patriarchs, handed down from father to eldest son, had wielded this power. Whether they used this power for good or evil depended entirely on which side of any given deal you happened to be on.

"Bobby Stewart literally laughed in my face this morning." Scarlett threw up her hands in disgust. "I was hoping to get in front of his dad, Robert Stewart Senior, since he's supposedly the most reasonable one of the Stewart bunch. And at least on paper he's still the boss. But, apparently, his health isn't great these days so 'Junior' has stepped in. But the Stewarts are still our best bet. They own the most theaters that would work for our show."

"Just our luck," Lawrence said, before amending his statement. "Actually, not our luck. We've had amazing luck every step of the way on Swan Song. I guess it had to turn on us sometime."

"Maybe I was premature in thinking I could start my own Production Company. I mean, how many other women my age are doing what I'm doing? I can't think of one. Maybe there's a reason I'm the only one." Scarlett began to realize that somehow in the course of carefully pursuing her dreams, she'd managed to put everything at risk. Failure, which in her case probably looked like running back home to California with her tail between her legs, was just not an option.

"Stop that right now," Lawrence said with a stern look, seeing her mood spiral downward. He grabbed her hand and forced her to look at him. "You survived four years working with the most sadistic producer on Broadway, and not only lived to tell the story, but triumphed. You will do the same here. I have no doubt."

She looked at Lawrence's handsome face, imploring her to cheer up, and had to admit, his words were getting through to her. "Thanks for the pep talk," she said, almost managing a smile.

"But enough talk about work. The important question is where can I buy you lunch? You look amazing and I simply must be seen with you!" he said, with an amiable glint in his eye.

"I wish I could, but I have to stay here and actually get some work done. I know that's a foreign concept to someone like you," she said, knowing he wouldn't take offense at her ribbing.

"Ah yes, work," he sighed. "I think I've heard of that." He headed toward the door and Scarlett followed him out into the hall.

"I need to break the news to the Jeremy's today, too. I think this calls for Sardi's bar. You can come and help me tell them what a terrible producer I am."

"Don't be so hard on yourself. You'll figure something out." Lawrence pulled her into a comforting embrace, releasing her with light kiss on her cheek as his elevator arrived. "There's got to be another way to get Swan Song to Broadway." He gave her a wink as the doors slid closed between them.

"I hope so," she whispered to the empty hallway, unable to avoid the sick feeling in her stomach. She couldn't help but wonder if Bobby Stewart was right. That she was a fool to think she could be a Broadway producer.

...

Scarlett rallied the Swan Song troops for an emergency meeting at the bar above Sardi's restaurant. Her favorite theater hot spot always cheered her up. The classic red bar stools, the familiar faces of the friendly uniformed bartenders, and the hundreds of caricatures which lined the walls - portraying decades of showbiz glitterati - always gave her a healthy dose of rejuvenating perspective. She gazed out the window of the second floor bar in time to see the Jeremys darting past yellow cabs, crossing 44th street, toward Sardi's front door below.

The two Jeremys, Swan Song's composer and lyricist, made their way up to the second floor bar quickly. Scarlett flagged them over to a corner table. They were foregoing their normal bistro table at the center of the bar. Though they frequented Sardi's to see and be seen by the other showbiz regulars, today they needed a little privacy.

Jersey Jeremy, so named by Scarlett because of his state of origin, leaned across the table to give Scarlett a kiss on the cheek. He was looking every bit the part of a hipster Broadway composer with his slightly mussed red hair, ironic bow tie, and argyle sweater vest. At the same time, his partner, Buff Jeremy, whose nickname required no explanation, leaned in to kiss Scarlett's other cheek. With slicked back dark hair, a tight black tshirt that showed off his amazing arms, and his favorite designer jeans, Buff Jeremy's look didn't exactly scream 'musical theater.' In fact, at first glance the two Jeremys appeared to be an unlikely couple. Though it only took a minute of seeing them together for anyone to realize that they made the perfect team in life and work.

"Hey guys," Scarlett said. "Thanks for meeting up on such short notice."

"Anything for you, Madame Producer," Jersey Jeremy said, with a mock bow as he sat down across from her.

"We needed to get out of the apartment anyway," Buff Jeremy said, jerking a thumb toward Jersey Jeremy. "This one was ready to kill me if we stayed cooped up inside." Scarlett loved their adorable apartment in Chelsea. It was the kind of idyllic apartment where starry eyed Manhattan wannabes imagined living, only to be surprised to find themselves with four roommates in outer-Queens. Scarlett shivered at the thought, as she remembered that she may be facing a similar fate if things didn't start to go her way soon.

"You know I love you, darling," Jersey Jeremy said, wrapping an arm around his partner. "But High School Divas may be the death of us."

"I'm sorry," Buff Jeremy said with an apologetic look toward Scarlett. "Is it rude for us to be talking about our other musical theater project?"

"I'd be jealous except I know how much the movie studio is paying you to turn their film into a stage musical. As long as you're buying drinks, talk away!" she said with a laugh. If she was jealous of anything, it was the occasional pang of envy she felt seeing how happy they were together. Her heart was still far from recovering from her last disaster of a relationship.

"Did I hear that someone was buying drinks?" Lawrence said, arriving just in time to pick up his cue.

"Yes. You are, Mr. Moneybags," Jersey Jeremy said, affectionately. "We didn't know you were back in town."

"I see I got back right on time," Lawrence said amiably. "What can I get for everyone?"

His question was greeted with a chorus of "white" and he headed to the bar to secure their late afternoon libations. The four of them had become a tight knit group in the past several months while working hard to bring Swan Song to Broadway. In fact, their journey together had provided career breakthroughs for all of them. Swan Song's off-Broadway success had given Scarlett and Lawrence the excuse they needed to open their own producing office. It had also made the Jeremys one of the hottest young musical theater writing teams in town.

The Jeremys had willingly shared with Scarlett the list of producers and theaters who had called them to offer gigs and commissions in the wake of Swan Song's success. They had loyally offered Scarlett the first right of refusal for their next project, and had turned down most of the other inquiries. Even Scarlett, however, understood that they couldn't say no when they were asked to turn the hit teen movie, laughably named High School Divas, into a stage musical. Not only was it right up their alley, but a paycheck from a major studio was nothing to sneeze at.

At this stage, the work on Swan Song was squarely on Scarlett's plate anyway. The show was finished. It was just a matter of her nailing down the theater and keeping the key players together. Not as easy as they might have hoped, she thought... the familiar feeling of dread sneaking back in.

Lawrence slid into the chair next to Scarlett, balancing four glasses and a bottle of white wine. The four of them exchanged small talk about Lawrence's trip, and of the Jeremys' challenges in making High School Divas into a musical.

"Cheers," Lawrence said, when they all had a full glass in front of them. "To Team Swan Song. Next stop Broadway!"

Scarlett clinked glasses with the four them, though her heart sank.

"So... about that..." began Scarlett, as three sets of eyes turned to look at her. "It seems we've hit a few snags."

"Nothing that this brilliant woman can't handle," Lawrence said, squeezing Scarlett's leg comfortingly.

"Right, right," she said. "While it's true that we've weathered worse, we do have some issues to deal with." This got a somber nod from the group. "And I thought you should hear the latest from me first."

"I think we already know," Buff Jeremy said. "Is this about our Swan Song director taking the film gig?"

Jersey Jeremy cut in, "He called us this morning."

Just yesterday, Scarlett had gotten the same call. The loss of their original off-Broadway director to a lucrative Hollywood film directing job was a big blow to Scarlett and the show. And yet, twenty four hours ago, she had felt fully prepared to handle it. But today, the loss of that key player combined with the theater-sized challenge she was facing was making her feel completely overwhelmed.

"Was that all you wanted to tell us?" Buff Jeremy said. "Might as well get everything out on the table."

"There is something else," she said miserably. "To be honest, I'm having a hard time getting a theater. It seems that even though we have the funding and a great show, it's not enough."

"How can that not be enough?" Jersey Jeremy asked.

Lawrence explained, "We need a green light from one of the theater owners."

"Well, that sure explains a lot," Buff Jeremy sounded disgusted. "So you can have an awesome show, but if it doesn't float the boat of some..." He searched for the right word "... real estate exec at one of those three companies, you're just S.O.L.?"

"Basically," Scarlett said, helplessly.

"And those execs somehow know the tastes of the entire theater going public?" Jersey Jeremy asked skeptically.

"Well, it's in their best interest to have a hit," Scarlett said. "They stand to make over a million dollars a month per theater per show. And from what I can tell, those old buildings cost a lot to maintain. Not to mention all the staff. If a show closes and the theater goes dark, they have to carry the overhead themselves."

"Poor things, I feel sorry for those multi-millionaires," Jersey Jeremy said, sarcastically.

"Believe me, I'm not trying to defend them. It just explains what's happening."

"But why do they care if it's a hit. Isn't there always a wait list of producers with shows circling the theaters like vultures, waiting to move in when another show closes."

"Yes, but that still requires a transition period where nothing's playing in the theater," Lawrence jumped in. "And by my best guess, that means the theater's missing out on something like $300,000 a week or more. That's showbiz, literally."

Scarlett shrugged. Though the system was frustrating, she knew that so much of Broadway came down to dollars and cents, and this was just more of the same.

"Well, I don't know what to say about a theater, but you'll be happy to know we've been doing some brainstorming about a possible new director!" Buff Jeremy said, changing the subject triumphantly.

"This is why I love you guys," Scarlett said. "Let's hear it."

"Let's just say that while it's true that High School Divas is musical theater dreck at its worst, or maybe best..." Buff Jeremy began.

"Let's go with 'best' thank you very much!" Jersey Jeremy said with a glare at his partner. "'Queen Bee's Lament' is a brilliant number if I do say so myself."

"He's right. You'll laugh your asses off when you hear it," Buff Jeremy said to Scarlett and Lawrence.

"I'm sure. When do we get a sneak peek?" Lawrence asked.

"Buy us a few more of these," Jersey Jeremy said raising his wine glass. "And we'll do the show right here in the bar."

"Tone it down, honey," Buff Jeremy said, affectionately. "We're supposed to be talking about Swan Song." He rolled his eyes up to the ceiling. "Please God let Swan Song open on Broadway before High School Divas. Our Broadway debut just can't be the equivalent of a second-rate "Mean Girls" musical."

"Amen, brother." Jersey Jeremy said.

"So you had some ideas?" Scarlett said. It wasn't unusual with the Jeremys to have to rein in the conversation from one tangent or another.

"Right. Yes. So, as I was saying, while it's true that we are selling our souls to "the man," we've actually met some pretty cool people. The studio had a reception the other night for several of the Broadway writers, directors and designers that are working on their various new musical properties..." Buff Jeremy said.

"You should have seen this reception. It was..." Jersey Jeremy began before he was cut off.

"Stay on track!" Buff Jeremy said. "Long story short, Kyle Jared said he was interested in working on something with us. Kyle Jared!!!" he repeated with a squeal.

"That is one beautiful man," Jersey Jeremy said, as Buff Jeremy shot him a dirty look.

"Down boy. And anyway, you're taken and he's straight."

"Yeah, yeah, I know. But I can still enjoy the view."

"Excuse my ignorance," Lawrence said. "But who are we talking about?"

Scarlett jumped in. "Kyle Jared. A hot new director - apparently in the looks department as well as the talent department. He's in his early 30s, but already has several Tony nominations."

"And you're all thinking he'd be a possible new director for Swan Song?" Lawrence asked.

"We just think he'd be worth talking to," Buff Jeremy said.

"And actually, an A-list director like him might help convince the theater owners that we're the real thing. He's also known to have good relationships with various stars. We could maybe get a celebrity in place as one of the swans," Scarlett said, thinking out loud.

"Are you saying we'd consider recasting our two leading ladies?" Lawrence asked. The cast had become close in the weeks the show played downtown. Though it was the reality of the business that Broadway shows needed stars to succeed, it was heartbreaking for the often more talented Broadway actors who got displaced by big names.

"But we love our girls," Jersey Jeremy said.

"I'm sure Scarlett wouldn't replace them without a good reason," Buff Jeremy said, in Scarlett's defense.

"Whoa. I'm not recasting anything. Slow down. We don't even know if Kyle would be interested."

"Here's his number," Buff Jeremy said, wrestling a business card from Jersey Jeremy, who was pretending to put up a fight about having to let it go. "We'll let you take over from here."

"Thanks guys. I really appreciate it."

"We're a team," Buff Jeremy said.

"Cheers to that!" Jersey Jeremy said. They clinked glasses with a smile.

"So I'm not kicked off the island even after all the bad news today?" Scarlett asked. It was a moot point. Legally she owned the rights to the show and couldn't be gotten rid of very easily. But she wanted the reassurance anyway.

"We're family, sweetie," Jersey Jeremy said.

"Speaking of family," Lawrence said. "When do we get to meet this infamous brother of yours?"

"Colin and Cassie get in tonight, as a matter of fact," Scarlett said, relieved to be moving on to easier topics.

"The reinforcements are arriving!" Lawrence said, thrusting his wine glass toward the ceiling as if it was sword, reminding her that despite all his many years and lucrative successes he was still the boy who never grew up.

"Ah yes," Buff Jeremy said, "The brother and the best friend. Straight from the San Francisco suburbs."

"Start spreading the news..."Jersey Jeremy started singing the iconic New York theme song.

"Speaking of singing," Scarlett cut in. "You're all invited to join us for a 'welcome to town party for Colin and Cassie' at Marie's Crisis this Friday at midnight. Your presence is... how shall I put this... required."

...

After the Jeremys left Sardi's to get back to work on their new musical, Lawrence and Scarlett decided to stick around for one more glass of wine.

"So do you think this Kyle Jared is the answer to our prayers?" Lawrence asked.

"Well, it's certainly a step in the right direction. Do you want to meet him with me?"

"Sure. That'd be great. I'm eager to meet this so-called heart throb," he tried to sound nonchalant, but failed.

"Don't be jealous," Scarlett said with a wink.

"Who said anything about being jealous?" Lawrence said defensively. "I'm not threatened by some pretty-boy, hotshot director."

"A Prince of Monaco couldn't turn my head these days. I'm taking a break from all that," Scarlett said, feeling the unavoidable pang of loss at the recent demise of her once so promising relationship with Reilly. Her heart still felt raw from that emotional rollercoaster. "Can you really blame me? You know how things ended with Reilly. I'm in no hurry to go there again, thank you very much."

Her brief but intense relationship with the celebrity Manhattan Journal theater columnist, Reilly Mitchell, had imploded several weeks earlier. There had been an undeniable and thrilling attraction between Scarlett and Reilly from the second they had met. But things had gotten too complicated. In the end, a Broadway producer dating a Broadway gossip columnist turned out to be a recipe for disaster.

Scarlett was grateful she hadn't run into Reilly since the break up, but she knew it was only a matter of time. Broadway was too small to avoid anyone for long. Things had gotten nasty at the end and the last person anyone in showbusiness wanted as an enemy was a popular and widely read gossip columnist like Reilly.

"Well, if you change your mind..." Lawrence said, pulling her out of her Reilly-charged revery while kissing her hand in a grand romantic gesture. Lawrence was always great for her self-esteem, but she knew he wasn't the committed boyfriend type.

"And take you off the market?" Scarlett said, taking a sip of her wine. "I'd have half the supermodels and socialites in Manhattan coming after me for stealing their most eligible bachelor."

"You do have a point there," he said with a mischievous grin, as they both laughed.

"You'll never settle down, Lawrence. It's not your style. Maybe I should follow your example! You seem happy."

Their revelry was interrupted by a familiar face.

"Fancy meeting you two here," Reilly said. It took a second for Scarlett to register Reilly's appearance, since he materialized just as she had been thinking of him. As if her thoughts had inadvertently conjured the last person she wanted to see.

She felt a wave of mixed emotions wash over her in a matter of seconds: sadness, attraction, anxiety and, ultimately, resolve. The break-up had been the right thing to do, she reminded herself. No one said it would be easy.

She shouldn't have been surprised to see Reilly here, at Sardi's. This was, after all, where they had first met those many months ago. Remembering everything they'd been through since that fateful first meeting, she steeled herself to face him now. She might as well find out now if she had a friend or an enemy in Broadway's most notoriously lethal journalist.

Lawrence, seeming to sense her concern, jumped to his feet and shook Reilly's hand. "Reilly, my man. Long time no see."

"You're looking good, Lawrence. Don't tell me you got that tan on the Upper West Side."

"French Riviera. You should try it sometime."

"I'll put it on my "to do" list. I'm sure my editor at the Journal would love to give me the time off," Reilly said.

Their conversation petered out into an awkward silence, which Reilly eventually broke.

"Hi Scarlett," Reilly said with his signature cocky charm. Though it didn't quite ring true as their eyes met. She wondered what was going through his head. Was as awkward for him as it was for her, or had he already moved on, she wondered.

"Reilly, hi," she said uncomfortably, before getting her wits about her. "Care to join us?" She tried to act natural, casually gesturing to one of the now empty chairs where the Jeremys had been perched.

"Thanks, but I'm meeting someone," he said.

"Great," Scarlett said, a little too brightly. "Good to see you. Still keeping the theater world on its toes?"

"You know me," he said. They both registered the awkward choice of words. "If you'll excuse me."

With that, Reilly turned away without another glance and headed back across the room. Scarlett watched him go. He took up residence at one of his usual bistro tables, facing away from Scarlett and Lawrence.

"You OK, Gorgeous?" Lawrence said, wrapping a protective arm around Scarlett.

"I'm fine. It's just weird. First time since the break up and all," Scarlett said, finishing off her glass of wine in one gulp.

"It just so happens I know the perfect cure for the post-break-up-chance-meeting-with-your-ex."

"Of course you do. And what would that be?"

"You, me, dinner at Monkey Bar." It was nearly impossible to land a table at Monkey Bar. Not to mention the fact that it was well outside of Scarlett's price range. However, Scarlett knew from experience that neither factor would be a problem for Lawrence.

"You know I have to go to the airport," she said. "I'm barely going to make it there on time as it is. Let's just hope the subway's running on schedule."

"The subway to the airport? I can't allow that. You'll take my car and driver. I insist."

"I couldn't ask you to do that. And anyway, it will give Colin and Cassie the wrong impression. I can't have them thinking that my NYC lifestyle is a series of limo rides and glamorous theater events."

"Isn't it?" Lawrence said, with feigned ignorance and a mischievous smirk.

"In your case, yes," she said, shoving him good-naturedly. "For the rest of us mere mortals, the subway will have to do."

He gave her an affectionate hug and kissed the top of her head. "You, Gorgeous, are no mere mortal and I won't take no for an answer." He kept one arm draped around her shoulders as he took out his cell phone to call his driver.

Scarlett made one more attempt to protest but finally acquiesced to the car and driver. It would have been a long subway ride out to JFK, and the cab ride back with their bags would have been expensive. She needed every dollar she had in her meager bank account.

As they got up, Scarlett couldn't help stealing a quick glance toward Reilly's table, wondering how she'd feel if she had to see him already wooing another girl. Scarlett's eyes widened. His drinking companion had just arrived. The smug face and arrogant posture of Reilly's guest had been burned into her mind just that morning.

She grabbed Lawrence's arm and whispered in his ear. "Look who that is with Reilly. It's Bobby Stewart."

"Ah, yes. The junior-theater-mogul. In the flesh," Lawrence said, with a glint in his eye. "Shall I give him a piece of my mind for the way he treated you at his office today?"

"That's a generous offer, but no," she said, though it was a pleasant thought. "I wonder what he's doing talking to Reilly?" she thought aloud to Lawrence as they made their way out of the iconic bar.

In that moment, Scarlett realized there was, in fact, one more thing she could do to try to get her plans for Swan Song back on track. She hadn't been willing to even consider it, but it was beginning to look like the only option. This wasn't going to be pretty.

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