A Monster and a Gentleman

Monsters In Hollywood, Book 5

Lila Dubois

Chapter 1

Cali and Seling

The street was deserted, bathed in the yellow glow of aging security lights. Chain-link and razor wire protected the warehouses that lined the street, the massive signs advertising their purposes—metal fabrication, distribution, appliance production—dark at this time of night. The woman hurried down the sidewalk, her shoes scuffing. She wore a jacket with the hood pulled up and jeans. A car turned onto the street and she slowed her steps, hunching her shoulders. The car passed and when she looked up her face was visible in the moonlight. Her caramel skin was bleached a light toffee, but her eyes were wide, dark pools—as black as the rope of braided hair hanging against her chest.

She hurried forward, until she reached an alley between the buildings. Piles of wood pallets, large plastic drums and other debris turned the otherwise wide alley into a snaking urban canyon. She waited at the mouth, wavering at the idea of going on.

Deep in the alley something moved. A pile of rubble shifted, pulling away from the rest until it was a hulking form. It moved towards the woman, who was silhouetted at the mouth of the alley. As it moved the shapeless mass resolved itself into a creature. Inky-black wings unwrapped from the body, rising into the night like those of a great bat. It slid in and out of the darkest shadows, seeming to melt away only to reappear in the next patch of moonlight.

Red eyes glowed in the dark, three feet higher than any humans would be.

The woman jerked, falling back a half step before she straightened. On the edge of the line of light, where the yellow glow from a streetlamp cut across the mouth of the alley, the creature stopped. One foot—a massive thing, tipped in claws, broke the line, coming forward into the light.

“Padma.” The name rumbled out of the darkness.

“You’re here.”

“I said I would be.”

“Let me see you.”

The thing moved out of the darkness. As it stepped into the light its skin changed from black to a pale blue. Color swirled along the surface of its skin like ink retreating from oil. Glowing red irises changed to bright purple. An eight-foot-tall, pale blue monster with bat-like wings stood in the mouth of the alley. Simple pants hugged the creatures muscled waist, ending at its knees, which faced backwards like the rear legs of a horse.

The girl looked it up and down, her hands slowly falling to her sides.

“Ebon.” There was no fear in her voice, only joy. “I’ve missed you.”

The woman threw herself at the monster, who caught her up, then bent and kissed her.

* * * *

Cali pulled off the headset and darted out of the trailer.

“We need the kissing shot again. It looks like he’s trying to eat Akta,” she barked at the A.D. The woman scuttled off, snapping orders into her headset. Cali looked up at the moon, judging the light. It was nearly 3am, and soon they’d lose the light—meaning the sun would come up, and this night shot would be ruined.

Within moments the little film-set encampment around her had come to life. They were in an industrial area south of LA, and had an assortment of trailers and trucks parked at odd angles across the street. The cluttered alley—which they had to declutter before the warehouses opened for business at 5am—was surrounded by lights, reflector screens, and a long line of camera track, which she’d used to shoot Akta walking down the street.

Lights were turned on, the cameras were uncovered and reassembled, and someone handed her a new headset battery pack. She plugged it in, leaving the headset around her neck and tuning out the production crew’s chatter.

A sleepy looking Akta wandered over, a zip-up hoodie on over the top of her costume. Cali—real name Mercedes—had been friends with Akta since college. Akta had acted in a few of the student movies Cali made while attending the country’s most prestigious film production program. In the production program with her were two other girls, both producers on this movie. Margo and Lena weren’t on set for this night shoot. They got up early each day to work with the location coordinator Nell to make sure locations were ready before the cast and crew showed up later in the day.

Together Cali, Lena, Margo, Akta and another friend and screenwriter, Jane, were Calypso Productions, a small production house with a few indie movie credits to its name.

That wouldn’t be true much longer. The movie they were filming was not a small production, and had the crew, budget and release date to prove it.

And whether the movie was good or bad, Cali was sure that no one would ever forget it.

Their other lead actor emerged from his trailer, which was actually a refrigerated semi, which they’d turned into an air-conditioned lounge. At over eight feet, with a twenty-foot wingspan there was no way Henry could use one of the regular trailers.

The monsters in this movie weren’t CGI, or motion capture. They were real.

And this movie was their coming out party.

Henry yawned, his wings flexing. “We’re shooting the kissing scene again?”

“Yes, it looks like you’re going to eat her.” Cali gathered her actors, pulling them out of the path from the equipment trailers to the location so the crew could work without obstruction. “Let’s rehearse, see if we can get this to feel more natural.”

Akta and Henry both nodded. They were trained actors—Akta with a slew of movie credits and a few awards under her belt, and Henry a revered theater actor among his people. His people, the monsters.

And yet they looked as awkward as high school juniors preforming Romeo and Juliet when they tried to kiss. Cali resisted the urge to smack them both upside the head and demand that they go in a trailer and fuck until they got it out of their systems. It was painfully obvious that they liked each other, and despite all the time they’d known each other, which was almost a year, they were still trying to pretend that they didn’t have feelings for each other.

“Henry, what would you do, normally, if you wanted to kiss a woman shorter than you?”

“I’ve never kissed a human woman.”

“Well you’ve kissed Akta through five takes, so yes, you have, but that’s not what I’m asking. Surely you’ve kissed someone, something, that’s shorter than you.”

Henry paused, then nodded.

“Good. How?”

Henry wrapped one massive, three-fingered, clawed hand around Akta’s waist. The wing on that same side swept around, urging her forward. His hand slid to her ass and he lifted her, his wing supporting her back. Akta grabbed his shoulders.

“Hold there.” Cali circled them, examining the pose. From one side there was an odd view of Akta’s legs, which were braced awkwardly against Henry’s waist. That was the only bad angle. She could shoot over either of their shoulders, or from the side where Henry’s wing hid Akta’s lower body.

“This looks good. Thanks Henry.”

Henry carefully set Akta down. She tugged at the hem of her sweatshirt, looking everywhere but Henry. These two were a mess.

“Let me show you something.”

Cali led them to the editing trailer. Normally dailies—all the footage from the day—were viewed off set at the end of the day. Because filming real monsters was totally new, Cali had the editor on site with her, in a trailer rigged up as a crude editing bay. What looked good on camera while shooting didn’t always translate. Almost every department had needed to go back the drawing board and relearn how to do what they did for the monsters. Lighting had to rig up new filters for the lights so the monsters’ skin wouldn’t look either flat or too shiny. Special Effects and Special Effects Make-up had developed entirely new products that worked with their skin and hair, and Wardrobe had gone to town creating clothing.

Every person on the set had been hired because they were good at what they did—and because they’d accepted that the monsters were real. The first few weeks had been rough, with several people having to leave to get themselves under control when the monsters shifted from their real bodies to their human forms. The process was messy and disgusting.

Now no one even stopped to stare.

Cali had forgotten that Henry wouldn’t be able to enter the trailer. As she and Akta climbed in there was the sound of popping bone from outside. A moment later Henry, now human, entered, holding up the too-large and too-long pants.

“Sorry about that,” she told Henry, who shrugged.

As a human, Henry was slender but muscular, with pale skin and a mop of brown hair. He looked arty and cool, like a British indie musician, or a hipster sculptor. He was tall, over six foot. Akta, at five-foot-four, was a little short for him on screen, but that was an easy solution—heels and small platforms made up the difference. There were much greater challenges with the physical acting than Akta’s lack of height.

“Oren, can you key up scene 19 again?”

A mid-forties man with salt and pepper hair turned in his chair. He was handsome, with laugh lines around his eyes that would have made a woman look old, but on him they looked good. He was tan and trim. A bottle of iced tea rested on the floor, away from the equipment.

“Akta, Henry,” Oren said pleasantly. Oren had been one of the best editors in the business. After a rather spectacular implosion that had taken him out of the game for ten years, he was back. His past hadn’t made him Cali’s first choice, but he was the best they’d been able to get. His lack of experience with the new technology that had developed in the past few years actually made him an asset. He knew how to edit and was proficient with the more basic visual effects they’d be using.

Oren swung his chair around to the mini editing bay they’d set up on a long table. The editing set up was where the bed should be. Cabinets and kitchen equipment had been stripped out too. In their place was a floor to ceiling cork board with strips of paper with the scene number and a description in neat rows. Those neat rows of paper outlined the entire movie.

A few taps to his keyboard and the scene popped up on the three monitors, each showing a different angle. Cali heard Akta sigh behind her as she watched. When the footage ended, returning to the AVID editing screen, Cali turned to face the actors.

They both looked depressed.

Cali bit back the need to say “see?” Normally brusque, with no filter between her thoughts and her mouth, the only time Cali watched what she said was when she was with actors. As the director it was up to her to place them in the moment, give them the emotional tools they’d need in the scene—not to tell them when they were being dumbasses.

“You both look beautiful,” she said. “The shot is good, but it could be great. What I’m not seeing a lot of is passion.”

Henry nodded while Akta toyed with the hem of her sweatshirt.

“Why don’t we go outside and take a few minutes to get to a different emotional place?”

Cali thumped the back of Oren’s chair as a way of saying goodbye as she followed her actors out the door. Akta was leading them to an area between the talent trailers, where they were a protected from the bustle of the set.

“Cali!”

Seling was ambling across the parking lot where they’d parked the equipment trucks. He had the easygoing stride of a good-looking guy who knew he was good-looking. He looked vaguely Asian, with black hair and a creamy caramel skin tone that made Cali crave caramel-filled Ghirardelli chocolates.

He was also a monster.

“Seling.” Though the need to go work with Akta and Henry was tugging at her, Cali couldn’t ignore the little pulse of pleasure deep in her belly. Seling was hot, charming and easy to talk to. She wanted to touch him, and be touched by him, since she first saw him, which was saying something because when she’d first seen him he’d been a fire-breathing monster. Literally.

Now he was another of her actors, and it was a sweet torture getting to see him naked several times a day as he changed between bodies. “What can I do for you?” she asked, keeping her tone professional.

“I wanted to talk to you.”

“I need to reshoot a scene with Akta and Henry, so maybe we can talk after this?”

A slow smile worked its way across Seling’s face. “I’m looking forward to it.”

Cali narrowed her eyes, not sure if he meant the innuendo, or if he just couldn’t help but be sexy and inviting. “I’ll find you.”

Seling ambled away, nodding and greeting crew members by name as they did final checks for the shot. As Cali turned to the trailers Akta darted out, moving fast. She pulled off the hoodie, revealing the thin hooded jacket and jeans she wore beneath. Henry, a monster once more, followed.

Shit.

Their body language was off, they looked pissed, not passionate. There were places in the script for angry kisses, but this was a reunion—a time for a long passionate kiss. Cali looked grimly at the sky before pulling the mic piece of her headset down and barking orders. They had to get the shot.

* * * *

Seling scrubbed his fingers on his scalp, eyes squeezed shut to keep the shampoo from getting in them. He hadn’t quite gotten the hang of bathing as a human yet, and the number of things he had to do to his human body—wash the skin, wash the hair, shave the face, clip the nails, put on deodorant, put on sunscreen…

The list was endless. He missed the hot mineral water that ran in the bathing pools in his clan’s home high in the Rocky Mountains.

He washed out the shampoo—he wouldn’t make that mistake again—and got out. The bathroom and shower in his trailer were tiny, and he was sharing it with one of the human actors, a man playing a military general. They’d created trailers he could use in his true form, but he was using this as an opportunity to learn how to live as a human, so he’d decided to forgo a larger truck trailer.

The human actor wasn’t in the same scenes as Seling, so he had the trailer to himself. He’d waited over an hour for Cali, but she hadn’t stopped by. The sun would be coming up soon, and not long after that drivers would come and drive the trailers and trucks away to the next location.

Since Seling didn’t have a car, and couldn’t drive anyway, he had to wait for a driver to get him and bring him to the condo he was sharing with his Clan-mate Henry. When he first came to LA, after Margo and Runako rescued him, Henry, Luke and Runako had all been living in the large condo, which was on the penthouse level of a building Cali’s dad owned.

Cali.

He wanted that human.

She was dark and intense, and when she looked at him he felt her focus and attention, as strong and potent as if she’d reached out and touched him. Seling liked females who knew what they wanted and were willing to tell him…and who wouldn’t balk when he told them what he wanted.

From the few things he’d heard the others say it seemed that human women were just as sexual and adventurous as the females of other species he’d been with. There were very few monster females, so most of Seling’s partners had been outside his own species—creatures who, unlike his Clan and the other clans of beings humans would call “monsters,” weren’t ready to make their presence known.

Since Runako had brought him to L.A. everything had moved very quickly, and Seling hadn’t spent as much time with Cali as he would have liked. She and the other human females had been busy hiring the crew to help make the movie, while he and the males had trained with Tokaki, the best warrior in the world, in preparation for the battle scenes. He’d never had a chance to get her alone.

They were into their fourth week of filming, and the days seemed to have developed a routine. He’d been watching her, noting her schedule and looking for a time to get her alone.

Despite their earlier conversation, it seemed tonight wouldn’t be the night.

Naked except for the towel he was using to rub his wet head, Seling bumped his way out of the bathroom, at the same time as the trailer door opened.

“Seling?” The door banged shut behind Cali, who froze when she saw him. “Oh.”

Seling blinked in surprise, hooking the towel around his neck and holding the ends. “Cali. You finished the shot?”

She looked tired, but still sexy. She wore jeans and a creamy white shirt with a light jacket over the top. The battery pack for her headset, which still hung around her neck, weighed down one side of her waistband, exposing a strip of brown skin.

“I—yes. Actually they did it in one take and it was spectacular, but I had to take a call from Margo.” She took a deep breath. “Are you going to put on some clothes?”

Seling looked down at his naked body. “I’m still wet.”

“You’re distracting me. Get dressed.”

“What do you mean distracting?” Seling grinned. Maybe tonight was the night after all.

“You know what I mean.”

“I don’t. At my home I spend most of my time naked.”

“That must be fun for the girls, but you’re in the middle of a human city so—”

“I don’t care about girls.” Seling took a step, then another, Cali’s body tensing a little bit more with each move he made. “But grown females, females who want to receive and give pleasure, interest me very much.”

“Are you hitting on me?”

Seling jerked back, confused as to why she would ask that when he clearly wasn’t hitting her, and wouldn’t, unless that was her kink of choice. Then he remembered that was a way of asking if he was trying to entice her to bed.

“Yes, I am hitting you.”

“Hitting on. Hitting on me, and we can’t do this.”

“We can. I’ll show you.” Seling grabbed her hips. A shudder went through her and Cali closed her eyes, licking her lips.

“We can, but we shouldn’t.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s unprofessional, because it might mess up the movie, because—”

Seling kissed her. Fusing their lips together, Seling used his hips to push her back against the door. His cock swelled on contact with her body and he felt the heat of her skin, even through her clothes. He’d had sex in his human body a few times—for scientific purposes, of course—but he never remembered this electric thrill. His need for her was not just a heavy ache in his loins, but seemed to lick across his skin like fire.

Fire was something he knew.

Fire was something he liked.

She jerked her head away, panting. Seling gave her a moment to breathe, deciding to take that opportunity to slip his hand under her shirt, roaming up her chest to cup her breast, which was encased in silky smooth fabric.

“Tell me,” he said, “tell me what you like, what you want.”

“I can’t think when you do that.”

“What? This.” He rubbed the tip of her breast with his thumb, and felt the nipple pebble behind the barrier of fabric.

“God, yes, that.”

“Don’t think, just talk. Tell me what you prefer. Do you like to be bound, give up control?” She twitched in his arms, turning wide eyes on him. “Do you like pain, whips?” He pinched her nipple, increasing the pressure until her eyes closed in surrender. “Maybe you want me to fuck you in the water, making you come before you surface for air. Or do you like to be in charge, acting like the goddess you are?”

Seling himself was panting after that, and Cali was rubbing her hips against his cock. Normally he could tell by a female’s reaction to his words what she preferred, but Cali seemed to react to everything.

He hoped that meant she would let him do anything he wanted to her.

“Seling, I don’t know. None of it, all of it, it shouldn’t matter. We’re not going to have sex.”

“If you don’t want me, say so. If you really believe it will destroy the movie and ruin my people, say so.” Seling took a step back, holding his hands up by his shoulders so she’d know he wouldn’t touch her until she answered.

Cali opened her eyes, the lust-haze fading a bit. “I want you. You know I do.”

“I hoped you did.”

“Yes, I think…” She blew out a breath. “Okay, I don’t really think that the movie will be destroyed if we have sex, but it’s not a good idea.”

“So it’s a bad idea?”

“Yes.”

“My best ideas are always bad.”

She laughed. “I bet they are. But I’m not into,” she waved her hand in the air, “all that stuff you mentioned.”

“Yes you are.”

“What?”

“You are. I felt it.”

“I mean it sounds hot, but I’ve never done any of it. And I don’t want to.”

“You do want to. I felt it.”

Cali narrowed her eyes, fire flashing in their depths. “I also like a man who listens, which clearly you don’t. Buh bye.” She turned to leave.

Seling leapt forward. He pressed his hips against her ass, caging her body with his. “If you don’t want that tonight, then we won’t do it.”

“If we’re not having sex then get off me.”

“I didn’t say we weren’t having sex.” Seling slid his hand between her body and the door. “Just that we’re not going to have complicated sex.”

“Is that what you call kinky sex?”

Seling slipped his hand under her shirt. Her skin was smooth and hot against his hand. Cali pushed away from the door, covering his hand with hers under her shirt. She didn’t try to stop him—she pressed his fingers harder into her breast, shuddering.

“Kinky sex can be simple,” he whispered in her ear, tangling his fingers with hers and sliding their linked hands under the waistband of her pants. “And vanilla sex can be complicated.”

Cali turned in his arms, their hands slipping away from her body. She examined his face, and Seling felt the intensity of her gaze. Cali grabbed his head and pressed her lips to his. Pleasure rocketed through Seling. She tasted sweet, and different—a human taste, he supposed. Grabbing her hips he lifted her, sliding his hands under her ass when she wrapped her legs around his waist.

Cali broke the kiss, and their gazes met. “Fuck it. Let’s do this.”

*

Seling’s hands kneaded her ass as he carried her across the small trailer and set her on the counter. Cali hooked her arms tighter around his shoulders while kissing his neck. He smelled like soap and something wild, something foreign. She took a deep breath, wanting to identify the smell, but he set her down on the small counter in the trailer.

Cali leaned back, keeping her hands on his shoulders. How delightful that he was already naked. She slipped the towel from around his neck and rubbed the terrycloth over the hard muscles of his chest.

“Am I dry?” His voice had deepened. She felt the rumble of his words through the contact with his shoulders.

“You are.” Cali tossed the towel away.

“Are you?” Seling’s hands kneaded the insides of her thighs. Pleasure tingled up and down her legs.

One thumb pressed against her core and Cali hissed out a breath. “No. I’m wet.”

Seling growled a moment before he captured her lips in a kiss. Even as the kiss deepened he was pushing her jacket off her shoulders. Cali jerked the battery pack for her headset from her pants and pulled the headset from around her neck. It tangled in her hair and Cali jerked, her hair falling out of the messy ponytail to spill around her shoulders.

Seling took a piece of her hair between his fingers, pressing it to his lips.

“Sweetness later,” Cali gasped, “sex now.”

“Your bad ideas are good too.”

Together they pulled her shirt off. Seling’s hands went to her breasts cupping them, rubbing her nipples through her bra. Cali wiggled off the counter and toed off her shoes as she unfastened her pants. As she started to wriggle out of them Seling stopped toying with her breasts and dropped to one knee. She was treated to a view of the tribal-style tattoo on his back. He only had the tattoo when he was human, though the flames of the tattoo represented the very real fire he commanded when he was in his other body.

Cali braced one hand on his shoulder as he pulled her jeans and underwear down and off. When she was naked before him Cali had a moment of doubt, of uncertainty. The moments were rare for her, and sharper because of it. She’d barely had time to sleep, and she probably needed to shave her legs and get a bikini wax, plus she’d been eating kraft services for all three meals for a month and had put on a few pounds.

Seling gripped her hips, pulling her pelvis towards his face. He kissed her bellybutton, then trailed kisses down to her pussy.

“Get back on the counter.”

Cali slid her ass onto the counter. Seling kissed his way up her thigh even as he spread her legs, hooking them over his shoulders. He touched her pussy with one finger, tracing the seam of her sex over and over until her body swelled to his touch. His finger slipped inside, stroking the inner lips of her sex, finally grazing her waiting clit.

“Ohh yes, that’s it.”

He slid his middle finger into her, pumping it in and out as his lips and tongue went to work on her clit. Cali reached up behind her head, grabbing the shelves there as pleasure tingled through her. Her desire had come on her sharp and hard, and she could tell the orgasm would be just as sudden and intense.

“Seling, yes, don’t stop.”

He pulled her ass off the counter, forcing one leg to wrap over his shoulder. It left her balanced on the toes of the other foot, her arms behind her head, clinging to the shelves. The position gave her a moment of fear, but his arms were there, hard and strong around her. She felt soft and vulnerable, a match to his strength.

His tongue worked her clit, keeping a steady rhythm with enough pressure to drive her on and up, towards the precipice.

Cali came, every muscle in her body tensing. When she couldn’t hold herself up anymore Cali tumbled off the counter. Seling caught her, lowering her to the floor.

With her body still humming with pleasure Seling came over her, pushing her legs open. He tugged her bra down, exposing her breasts to his lips. He lingered there only a moment before she pulled him up, wanting to feel his lips on hers. His chest settled against hers and his cock rode along her thigh. She wanted him in her, and even as his mouth ravaged hers Cali tugged on his hips.

She felt him smile against her. He pulled away a bit, teasing her, and Cali reached down and slapped his ass. He kissed her neck, chuckling a little.

“Do you want me?” His gaze locked onto hers, his lashes seeming long this close up.

“Yes.” Though she’d come once she still wanted him, almost desperately.

“Then show me.”

Seling rolled onto his back and pulled her on top of him. Cali hid her frown. She’d had a relationship where the guy just lay back and closed his eyes, demanding that she always do the work. It had turned her off being on top. But the moment passed when Seling reached up and fondled her breasts with one hand, the other curving against her mound so his thumb could work her clit.

Reaching back she braced her hands on his thighs and worked her hips first back and forth and then in small circles. The rhythm of his hands plucking her nipples and rubbing her clit slowed, seeming to stutter as she worked his cock inside her.

Smiling at the effect she had on him Cali leaned forward, pressing his hand more firmly against her breast.

Their gazes met. The surroundings seemed to melt away, leaving only them, only this moment of pleasure.

A second orgasm grew in her belly and Cali leaned forward, bracing her hands on his chest as it swept over her.

“Not yet,” Seling growled, but it was too late. Cali panted with pleasure.

Seling flipped them over, driving into her with a few hard strokes before he shuddered above her.

They lay on the scratchy carpet, panting. Seling picked up her hand, lacing their fingers together. Cali turned her head, watching the way they fit together. As seconds became a minute the flash-fire of passion morphed into something more intimate.

She could feel Seling looking at her, but the unexpected, and unwelcome, intimacy froze her.

There were three sharp raps on the door.

“Mr. Seling? I’m here to take you home.”

Cali bolted upright. The transportation crews must be here to move the trailers, and with them Seling’s driver.

“Tell him you’ll meet him at the car,” she hissed at Seling, who was still lying calmly on his back.

“I’ll meet you at the car,” he said loudly, eyes never leaving her.

“I can’t believe it’s this late—early—you know what I mean.” Cali pulled her clothes across the floor and slipped into them as quietly as she could.

“I don’t need the driver,” Seling said, handing her shirt to her. “You can take me home. With you.”

“No, I can’t. I need you to look outside and see if the driver is really gone.”

That made him frown. “Alright.”

When he reported back that there was no one outside Cali patted her pockets—where she’d tucked her bra—and scooped up her headset and battery pack. She’d have to make sure it was replaced with a fresh one, since she hadn’t turned it in to grip and electric before they packed up.

Seling took her hand. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

She pulled away, no longer comfortable with the melting feeling in her belly that accompanied his touch. “Of course, we’re shooting tomorrow.”

With that Cali let herself out of the trailer and walked away.

Chapter 2

Oren

A monster crouched on top of warehouse. His green skin appeared black in the moonlight, while his red wings filtered that same light, casting blood-red shadows on the metal and glass roof he perched on. His gaze narrowed and lips pulling back to reveal teeth as long and sharp as kitchen knives.

One at a time the monster folded his bat-like wings over himself then took a few steps back, hiding in shadows cast by the pitch of the roof. From the shadows his eyes glittered, like light reflected off obsidian. Those eyes were watching, tracking something on the ground below him.

His head tilted to the side and his wings raised off his body slightly, as if he were going to unwrap himself.

The moment passed, and with a snort the monster retreated to the shadows holding so still that everything but those glittering eyes disappeared.

Then his lips pulled back again, but this time it was in a sinister, horrifying smile. Still smiling, his great wings unfurled and he took to the air, rising into the night like a demon rising out of hell.

* * * *

Oren tapped a few keys, eyes on the monitor on the upper level of the bi-level desk. He rolled the scene back and played it again. In post-production, where there were assistant editors and animators and all the other people who made up the editing team, they could enhance things—the whiteness of fangs in the shadows, the red-tinted light under the wings. For now the scene was good enough for the dailies, especially since it was just him, working far more than any other editor would have agreed to.

He rocked back in his chair, glad to be in the production offices rather than the production trailer on set. The ergonomic office chair was better for his back than the plastic affair he had in the trailer. Getting old sucked, and at 42 he was old enough that his back was starting to hurt, especially on the days after a long run or cycle.

“Do you have it?” Cali walked in and plopped down on one of the two couches up against the wall in his office. His office was really a small conference room, with his editing bay against one wall, and lots of space behind him for people to sit or stand and watch the film that was shot that day—the dailies.

Due to their tight timetable, and the fact that everything they were doing was new, he was running the dailies twice. The first time was at the end of each day’s filming, which was usually early in the morning after a night of shooting, and then again in the office around one o’clock, when he’d string together the best takes from all cameras and angles to make a complete scene.

They discovered plenty of problems this way. Certain light settings caused the monsters’ skin to be two completely different shades in different cameras. They’d found that the canvas-like snapping of wing membrane was loud enough to throw off the sound, and finally they’d come to the realization that the monsters looked too real on film. Audiences were used to CGI or motion capture. The monsters were so real that they’d decided to add filters in post—which Oren was still playing with.

The filters would give the humans a slightly otherworldly appearance too, but audiences would automatically mentally correct for that.

“I’ll pull it up.” Oren worked the keys on his computer. The normal keyboard for his Mac was on the desk next to him. In its place was the specialized AVID software overlay keyboard, which made his computer look like a control panel from the original Star Trek. Cut together, Scene 19 showed the reunion between Padma and Endo, Akta and Henry’s characters, with Seling’s character spying on them from the top of a warehouse.

“Are you tired?” Cali’s voice was accusing, as if the fact that he didn't immediately give her what she wanted was a sign of weakness rather than computer processing time. Oren stifled a sigh. He’d forgotten how demanding a job this was, and how irritating directors could be.

“Nope. I’m fine with five hours sleep.”

“Good.”

Oren stifled another sigh. Cali was one of the most irritating directors he’d dealt with in the past ten years. Then again, she was the first real director he’d dealt with since his meteoric rise in the industry ended with a spectacular and public fall from grace.

But she was good, brilliant even. The best directors knew when to lead, and when to stand back and let the crew flex their skills. Her brusque, almost rude, mannerisms could melt away into the sweet soft tones of a director coaxing an actor into the perfect space for the performance, and in the next instant bark out orders that got everyone moving and helped the producers keep the production on track.

“How does it look?” He could hear the faint tap of her foot on the carpet.

“You’ll see for yourself.”

“Just tell me.”

They played this game every day, and over the past month Oren had come to realize she was scared. He’d put it down to nerves, but as good scene after good scene were in the bag and she didn’t get any less nervous, he’d realized it wasn’t nerves but fear. She was scared of failing and scared of what they were doing.

He doubted she even realized how scared she was, but it was there, in the back of her eyes and the tapping of her foot.

When they’d first approached him and showed him some home video of the monsters he’d been sure he was being punked, or in some other way set up. He’d been wary of the mysterious offer, more wary when his inquiries about the project to the few people in the industry who were still talking to him had yielded no information.

It wasn’t until he’d met one of the guys, watched him change from a good-looking human man to a fucking frightening monster that he’d understood. Understood not only that they were very serious when they said they were making a movie to show the world that monsters were real, but that they probably had a very short list of editors they could go to. The big names wouldn’t risk their careers being associated with the project, and the good indie people didn’t have the experience editing summer blockbusters. And there was nothing worse than an action movie that felt like a Sundance film because of the editing.

“Are the dailies in?” Jo, the Production Designer, bustled in.

“Oren’s pulling them up. How are the sets coming?”

“Good. According to Tokaki and Luke they’re a good mix between the Clan’s caves in the Rockies, Tokaki’s place in China, and stuff I made up.”

“Are they still whining about not wanting it to look too real?”

“Yes, and I see their point. If the wolf people who attacked Runako and Margo come after them again post-release we don’t want to give them blueprints, or a map to their location.”

There was a touch on his shoulder, and Oren looked up. Jo, a pretty, artsy woman with dark hair sporting one icy-blue stripe near the front, smiled at him. “I forgot to say hi. Hi, Oren.”

He chuckled. “Hello, Jo.”

“You don’t need to say hi. We see him every day.” Cali bitched from behind them.

“I’ve told you before, I’m sure they have medication for whatever’s wrong with you.” Jo returned to the couches, taking a seat next to Cali even as they continued sniping at each other.

“There’s nothing wrong with me.”

“Denial. A symptom, wouldn’t you agree, Oren?”

“Leave me out of this.”

“You’re getting bitchier as you get skinnier,” Cali told Jo.

“What can I say? Amazing sex burns calories.”

Oren had a very brief image of Jo having sex with her boyfriend—he was one of the monsters, but unlike the ones who were acting in the movie, Jo’s guy Tokaki turned into a massive white tiger, almost as long as a freight car from the tip of his tail to his nose. The image of them having sex that popped into his head made Hentai tentacle sex look tame.

“Jesus,” Oren murmured. He finally had the best shots cued up and in order. “Ready?” he asked over his shoulder.

“Yes—wait, there’s more people coming.”

Though the dailies didn’t need to be seen by anyone but Cali and her assistant directors, as the production went on more department heads showed up every day. Some were just curious he was sure, but others had realized that since the monsters wouldn’t adapt to the world they created the way animator-created computer monsters would, they had to pay more attention to what the actors looked like, how they moved, and what fit their scale.

Pete Bierbaum, the special effects supervisor was the first one in. He’d only recently lost his dazed look. In charge of all the real effects—things in the camera, such as blowing up cars—he’d been having a field day since he realized that if he wanted one of the actors to chuck a car across the road he could just ask them to chuck a car across the road—no rigging, engineers or expense besides the car itself. This had more than doubled what he could do with his budget, and the man had developed a borderline obsession with having the monsters drop stuff from fifty feet up, just to watch it crash.

He was followed by the VFX supervisor. Visual effects were the big men on campus on most movies, and Catherine seemed at a bit of a loss as to what she’d be doing. They’d made a good choice in VFX—she was good and creative. She’d take the footage, which was already amazing, and make it more so.

The location manager, Vernell, took a seat on the floor by Jo, opening a binder and pointing to what were probably photos of upcoming locations. Jo was responsible for the overall look of the movie, and that meant she had to okay all locations. Since those locations also had to be cleared through the producers and Cali, the LM’s job was not one Oren envied.

More above the line people filtered in, including the assistant directors, casting director—who had to vet all principal actors to make sure they wouldn’t freak when they saw the monsters, special effects make-up, and the director of photography, who was wearing a shirt that said “Show me Where to Point the Camera.”

“Play it.”

There was silence as the scenes played on the massive main monitor. The film was raw, even though it was digital, with the scene timings and tags running along the bottom. The sound wasn’t fully synched yet, so not all the dialogue came through, but it was enough.

When it was done playing Oren turned in his seat. He scanned the faces, seeing awe, shock, thoughtfulness, and anxiety.

“It’s good.” The assembled group looked to the door, where Margo, one of the producers, stood. Her dark hair tumbled around her in waves, and her ever-present clipboard rested on her hip. “Good job with the kiss. The stuff I saw last night was bad.”

“Don’t say bad,” Cali stood, wading through the group. “But yea, it sucked. They worked it out.”

“Good job everyone,” Margo nodded to everyone, then she and Cali left the room.

Little by little the others filtered out, many stopping to chat or asking to see a particular scene. When they were gone, Oren leaned back in his chair. Checking his watch he saw that it was just after two. He could drive an hour to his place in North Hollywood, get a few hours of sleep and then drive to set. Or he could just crash on one of the couches for a few hours.

Grabbing a pillow from a desk drawer he ambled over to the couches. He’d forgotten how long the days were, how tiring and frustrating it could be.

He closed his eyes, a smile creeping over his face. It was good to be back.

* * * *

Hollywood Heartbeat

Monsters are Real!

We were planning on showing you exclusive stills from Calypso Production’s still untitled film, but it’s not about the film anymore. It’s about the actors.

Check this: the actors aren’t human. That’s right, those hotties who’ve been showing up all over the red carpet along with the lovely Akta Patel aren’t human. They’re monsters.

Real monsters.

Don’t believe me? Think I smoked some bad stuff? Here are the stills from the production.

That’s right, you’re looking at a monster embracing, or killing, Akta. Some of you are going to say that it’s just really good effects, but remember this—no special effects house is working with them. ILM, Zoic…none of them are associated with this movie.

Maybe it’s puppets?

Nope, Jim Henson studios has never heard it them. Handspring says no, too.

AND, this is a shot from the production footage. Not the post footage.

No CGI, no live action puppetry. How are they doing this?

A source on the production confirms the actors are real monsters, who can change into humans at will.

MONSTERS ARE REAL.

It’s not about the movie any more people. It’s about these monsters. Where’s the CIA? FBI? Those people from Roswell? We want to know the truth about this movie, and who these actors are NOW.

* * * *

The next morning, Oren jogged from the parking lot into the Calypso Production offices on Miracle Mile. Thirty minutes ago he’d been in the shower, finally jumping out after his phone rang for the fifth time in a row.

In the thirty second conversation he’d had with Lena he’d gone from sleepy and irritated at all the phone calls to shocked and horrified. He’d raced from his apartment, still wet from his shower. As he took the stairs two at a time he could feel his shirt clinging to his back, his jeans sticking uncomfortably where they’d absorbed the water off his skin.

They were waiting in the conference room. The doors were all propped open and as his footsteps echoed on the tile he saw the five co-owners seated around the conference table.

Oren dropped into a chair and looked at the grim faces. “I pulled up the blog in the car on the way here.”

“Fucking blogs,” Cali snarled.

“You love Hollywood Heartbeat,” Lena said quietly. The blond beauty was perfectly put together, despite the fact that it was a day off.

“I did when they were reporting on the writers’ strike. Now they’re just another shitty tabloid.”

“Tabloid or not,” Oren said, not wanting to listen to the women fight, “they have shots from the footage.”

“We’re sure they’re not just paparazzi photos?” Akta was twirling her hair into a rope.

“No.” Oren looked at his phone. “You can see the top of the numbering in the still. They cropped most of it off, but didn’t get it all.”

“And they said that it’s a shot from the film.” Margo’s words hung in the air.

Oren stared at his phone, mind whirling. “Someone from the production must have given it to them.”

The room seemed to take a collective breath.

“Maybe not…” Akta looked around, seeming hopeful that Oren was wrong.

“It has to be. They call them monsters. Why that word? Is that the first word that pops to mind when you see them? No. Gargoyle, or demon, is closer. Monsters is what they call themselves, and yet that’s what the blog said too.” Jane’s words were clipped and hard, as if she were spitting them out.

Margo rubbed her arms. “They know that the human actors we’ve been sending out on publicity runs are the same as the monsters in the footage. That isn’t shown on the tape, there’s no transformation in this scene, so whoever gave it to the blog also told them about the changing.”

Margo’s eyes rested on him and Oren stiffened. Straightening, he looked around the table. Five pairs of eyes rested on him. While Lena and Jane’s gazes were carefully shuttered, Cali and Margo’s were openly accusatory and Akta just looked worried.

They thought he’d done this. His back teeth ground together. How could they think that?

“You think I did this?”

“You’re damn right I do.” Cali leapt out of her seat.

Lena put a hand on her arm and said, “Did you?”

“Of course not.” Their accusation was like fire in his belly. “How could you think that I did this?”

There was a moment of silence. Oren let out a harsh laugh and rested his head on his palms. “Of course. Ask the drug addict. If there’s a crime anywhere within a five-mile radius he’s probably at fault.”

Anger at the accusation twinned with a familiar feeling of resignation. At the height of his fame, with every hot young director begging for him, two Oscars under his belt and more money than he’d ever dreamed of having, he’d been living the life—including a raging coke addition. For a year he’d been fine—a functioning addict, but then there came a time when he couldn’t do the work. Full of himself and driven by drugs he’d insisted he could do it and destroyed reels of footage, mangled a movie, and exposed himself as an addict and an asshole to friends and colleagues alike. He’d become the poster boy for how drugs could destroy a career, even in Hollywood, where coke had been built into movie budgets at that time.

Ten years later, and eight years sober, he was still haunted by his past. This movie was going to be his big comeback.

At least he’d hoped it would.

“Don’t act all hurt, you’re the one who fucked us, fucked us all. Do you have any idea how screwed we are?” Cali was practically vibrating with rage.

“Yes, I do. And I’m not acting like anything. I didn’t do this. I wouldn’t have.”

“Oh really? Because from here you look like a pretty good suspect.”

“This is just on one entertainment blog right now. If you stopped wasting your time accusing me of something I didn’t do based on my past, we might be able to get in front of this.”

Rumor and talk had helped ruined his career once. He didn’t want it ruined again.

“Maybe you gave the footage to a friend, or showed it to someone without realizing?” Lena said diplomatically.

“Of course not. Why, besides my past, do you think I did it?”

“Fuck you being a druggie, everyone was fifteen years ago. You’re the damned editor! You’re the only one with the footage.” Margo’s voice was tight and angry.

Oren blinked. “Oh.” He sat back and cleared his throat. When she said it like that it made sense.

“Oren. If you tell us who you gave it to we won’t pursue the breach of contract.” Lena’s voice was still level, though now that he really looked he could see the strain on her face.

Every person working on the film had signed huge, comprehensive confidentiality agreements. They were common, especially for movies that needed their plots kept secret.

“If I had any idea I would tell you, I swear, but I didn’t do this. I wouldn’t. Not only would I not hurt any of you, or the guys, but look at it from my perspective. This movie is my comeback. I don’t want to risk that.”

That gave them pause.

“I don’t have as much to lose as Luke and Runako and Henry, in the global sense, but as far as my life, and my career, I do have a lot at stake.”

“That does make sense, and I want to assure you that our suspicions are mostly rooted in the fact that as the editor you have access to the footage.”

“Mostly, but not all.”

Lena’s gaze met his. “No, not all.”

Oren nodded his acceptance of that. Addicts couldn’t be trusted. He knew that, better than most, but after so many years sober it hurt to hear it.

“Great. I’m glad we all had that moment. Let’s get back to the problem.”

“Good point, Cali. Oren, who else could have accessed that footage?”

He sat back for a moment, working through possibilities. “The only editing bay currently set up is the one I use. Before I go to the set for the night I move that day’s footage onto the server and off my computer. The server is hardwired with no wireless connection, so no one accessed it remotely.”

“So you mean that whoever copied this must have done it two days ago, when we were looking at that footage on the dailies?”

“Yes.”

“And the only place to access it is your computer?” Margo was taking notes, a line forming between her brows as she frowned.

“This is not making you look any less guilty.” Cali was pacing now, Lena having given up on restraining her.

Oren ignored her. “In theory someone could have downloaded that footage from the server if they were in the building, but access to the server is password protected.” Oren rubbed his temple. “My computer doesn’t have a password, so they probably got it from there. However, whoever did it would need to know AVID.” The video editing software was not the sort of thing that anyone but a professional in the industry would have experience with.

“That narrows it down,” Akta said.

“Not really.” Margo was frowning at her notes. “Almost everyone on the crew has been to film school, which means they’ve all taken classes in it.”

Everyone started talking at once as theories and accusations flew around the room. Oren went to Jane, who for the most part stayed out of the fray.

“Where are the guys?” Oren wanted to tell them in person that he hadn’t been the one to leak their secret.

“We kept them away.” Jane, looking sweet and kind with her blond hair in a braid, eyes blue and bright, shook her head. “They would have killed you before you had a chance to say you didn’t do it.”

That was a sobering thought. He’d seen Runako throw a car thirty feet—several cars actually, they’d done multiple takes. He didn’t want to think about what any of them were capable of doing to a human body.

“Well, thank you.”

“I’m sorry we accused you.”

“It’s okay…I’m used to it.”

Jane’s eyes softened. “I really am sorry, we’re all just so upset.”

“I understand.”

“Ladies, and Oren, let’s pull ourselves together. The logical place to start is with the blog.”

For the next hour they made plans. When they were done everyone had an assignment. Oren’s was simple enough—check his computer and see what he could discover about the file being copied.

He left, leaving the women still debating. He’d do what they asked and check in on the files, but he was also going to look into this himself. His reputation, and his future, were on the line.

Chapter 3

We've been betrayed.” Luke's words were low and quiet.

They were in a clearing high in the hills of Griffith Park. The park, used by Angelinos for hiking, picnicking and stargazing had become their retreat. Only a small portion of America's largest urban wilderness had roads and trails to make it accessible to humans, which meant they were safe—or so they hoped.

They'd adapted to living here, each in their own way, and their own time. From Luke, whose love for human culture, particularly movies, was the root of this effort, to Runako who had once been their greatest opposition.

But while they'd learned to live and move in the human city it was not built for them, and they'd each found themselves forced to spend time in their human forms. There were times when they wanted to wear their own skin, to feel the power of their true bodies.

Times like now.

Luke, Henry, Michael, Runako, Seling and Tokaki were in their true forms, standing or sitting silently in the clearing. No one answered Luke's statement. There was a tension to their silence and stillness, as each was afraid to express the anger that boiled in them. Afraid what they would do in their anger.

“What do we do?” Seling asked.

“We let the females investigate.” Luke was confident in his beloved, sure she could get to the bottom of this, and if she couldn't do it herself she'd know who to hire.

“That will take time. Now it's just that one website, but in the time it takes them to investigate others may decide to take the blog seriously.” Henry, whose normally pale blue skin had turned black with anger, leaned against a tree.

He was a purer black even than Runako, who stood with arms folded, gaze focused on the ground.

“What other options are there?” Tokaki asked in the old language.

“Can’t you read their minds?” Henry asked.

“I’ll try, but humans who are upset and worried are hard to hear.”

“Maybe you’ll overhear someone thinking about it.”

“Yes.” Tokaki nodded his massive head. “I will keep trying, but there is no guarantee I will ever find the person. If they are smart they will avoid us, or be careful to pretend to be on our side.”

They fell silent for a moment. Finally, Luke said, “We knew this was a possibility, we knew what we risked.”

“As it stands if we back out we won't be safe. They have enough video from the movie that the humans would come looking for us.” Michael's voice was carefully neutral.

“Then our only option is to stop whoever leaked the pictures and to continue with the movie,” Luke said.

“Whoever did this is risking much.” Tokaki's voice was gravelly, coming from between the powerful jaws of his true tiger form. “They must know the personal consequences when we identify them.” There was a moment of silence when they acknowledged that they would kill whoever had betrayed them. “They are hiding rather than coming forward and stating that they have a problem with us. That worries me.”

Runako's head snapped up. “You think our females are in danger. That whoever did this might lash out at them if they get close to discovering the culprit?”

Tokaki nodded.

Runako's wings snapped open, “They will not hurt Margo.” He growled, the sound vibrating the air.

Luke took a step, raising his hand. “All our mates are at risk.”

Henry looked away, and Seling looked thoughtful, though none of the others noticed their reaction to the statement.

“We cannot have them investigate this,” Luke said.

“Agreed.”

“We need help. Another human?” Michael asked.

There was a moment of silence while they pondered that. Then Henry said, “No, not another human. This is an attack on us. One of us should investigate.”

“We would be recognized,” Seling pointed out.

“I don't mean one of us.” Henry motioned the six of them who stood in the clearing. “I mean one of our people.”

“Who…oh.” Luke fell back a step, thinking.

“Who?” Michael looked between them. His eyes widened in realization and he sat down on a fallen log. “Are we sure Tokaki can’t do it?”

“I will do what I can, but you’re right, she would be better.”

“Who are you talking about? Wait, you can't be serious.” Runako rubbed his head with his palm, wings folding into his back.

“Maeve.” Luke said her name quietly.

“It makes sense.” Henry agreed. “Who could figure it out faster than her?”

“You know that human expression 'bringing a knife to a gun fight'?” Seling shook his head ruefully. “Bringing Maeve is like bringing a nuclear weapon to a knife fight.”

“There are some cons to involving her.” Luke agreed.

There were a few minutes of silence before Henry sighed and said. “So we're agreed?”

One by one they nodded. They didn't have other viable choices.

“So who goes to get her and bring her to L.A.?” Michael asked.

Another silence as they looked between each other.

“There's no need.” The voice was sweet perfection, a mix between husky sexuality and sweet innocence.

“Shit!” The males jerked, heads swiveling as they scanned the trees and sky for the source.

“There's no need,” the voice repeated. A young woman, naked except for a tangle of black hair that hung to her knees, covering her like a cloak, appeared in the center of the clearing. “I'm already here.”

One by one she met the males' gazes, and one by one they looked away from her.

Then Maeve, the Seer of the great Clan, threw back her head and laughed, the sound ringing with both joy and madness.

* * * *

They held the emergency meeting at the training studio. They'd rented out the empty warehouse to use as a gym and training area for the monsters. It has also become storage for the Art Department, and massive bronze and iron sculptures destined for the fictional throne room loomed in the shadowed corners.

It was just shy of 10 AM, but they were close enough to the ocean that the marine layer hung low over the building and the row of high windows didn't let in much of the silvery light. Every person associated with the production was crowded into the building—well over 100 people. By the time they were done that number would have tripled, and the success of the project depended on every one of those three hundred people supporting the cause, and adhering to the massive confidentiality agreements that they'd signed.

Lena stood on an apple box so the group could see and hear her as she explained what was going on. Heads bowed as people used phones and tablets to pull up the blog. There were murmurs of concern as they saw the photos.

It wasn't just the Monsters who were at risk. If they couldn't control how the truth was disseminated everyone attached to the project would be under scrutiny. Most people working on the movie were early in their career—good, but without the credits to get them on bigger jobs. This could end those rising careers, and expose everyone to a lot of personal criticism.

The monsters in the movie stood behind Lena like a frightening backdrop. Henry was in his human form to keep from scaring the humans by letting them see his anger in the color of his skin. Luke, Seling and Runako were in their true forms, three massive gargoyle-like monsters with bat wings, their skin ranging from black to red to green. Michael, in his human form, and Tokaki were at the back of the room. Tokaki prowled, his massive head and huge eyes fixing on anyone who fell back or stopped paying attention. The crowd stayed clustered towards the front of the room.

“We will be increasing security, though at this time we do not think the footage was stolen.” Lena went quiet, waiting.

The first row of the crowd was made up of the above the line people, clustered in and among the other Calypso Production owners. Darryl, the director of photography, and Pete Bierbaum, the special effects supervisor looked pissed, while Vernell—Nell—Neuberger, the locations manager, and casting director Lance Krone looked worried. The second assistant director Javier Amero looked like he would pass out. He'd interned with Cali on an indie film Calypso had done as part of a minorities in film project. Oren put a hand on the young man's shoulder, a grim look on his face. Catherine was studying the images from the blog on her phone while next to her Hugh Leifer, the special effects makeup manager, scribbled something on his clipboard and passed it to Jo, who read it and nodded.

“If any of you know anything about this please let me know. If you think you may have accidentally given information to someone, again, please come forward. If you help us deal with this situation we won't pursue breach of contract.”

Lena's words settled over the crowd. She remained silent for a few moments, letting that sink in. No one stepped forward, but as the silence lingered people started to shift, shuffling their feet and tapping their phones.

Luke flared his wings, the snap of the membrane, like canvas in wind, silenced the room and drew all eyes to Lena.

“We will find out who leaked the photos.” Lena, trim and tailored in a pencil skirt, blouse and heels, scanned the crowd. When she was done her stern expression shifted to a smile.

“Thank you all for coming early, or staying late, for this meeting.”

Luke held out one clawed hand and Lena used it to step down. Henry threw open the doors and the production crew filed out, under the watchful eyes of the monsters.

~

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